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'A Millionaire's First Love' offers melodrama for Valentine's Day couples

2006/02/09 | 672 views | Permalink | Source

Because "A Millionaire's First Love" (Baekmanjangja-ui cheot-sarang) stars Hyun Bin, Korea's emerging heartthrob, and because it's about his millionaire-to-be character falling in love with a poor yet beautiful girl, it is not surprising that its release comes just a week ahead of Valentine's Day.

It is however, surprising that the filmmakers and promoters have pulled off a cast which includes Hyun Bin, who is now appearing in a popular television ad for a mobile phone named "chocolate", a popular symbol for Valentine's Day.

It is not hard to imagine why the film's promoters desperately want Hyun's "chocolate" image combined with the extremely marketing-laden yearly event to turn "A Millionaire's First Love" into the movie of choice for young couples.

The problem with most Valentine's Day chocolate presents is that you end up paying far more for the elaborate and enticing packaging, rather than the actual slice of sweet chocolate. Something similar is happening in this typical melodrama movie directed by Kim Tae-gyoon, though the appeal of the film's packaging may vary from person to person.

Hyun stars as a good-looking, freewheeling and I-don't-care-what-you-think high school student, Jae-kyeong, who is to receive a huge inheritance on his 19th birthday. But it's not a done deal: his foresighted grandfather attaches a precondition on the inheritance, and under the legally binding clause, Jae-kyeong has to move to the countryside and graduate without any trouble.

This sounds preposterous for a wayward kid who only knows the comforts of his fancy imported car and doesn't have any interest in attending classes, much less ones in the countryside.

The family lawyer, however, remains firm, showing no intention to compromise; Jae-kyeong finally heads for the much-dreaded small school in a rural area. But before his departure, there is a chance meeting with a girl named Eun-hwan, played by Lee Yeon-hee. They meet in the lobby of a hotel owned by the deceased millionaire, and the proud heir mistakes her for a call-girl.

At the least, that's what the director had in mind when he shot the scene. But it fails miserably because Eun-hwan's incongruous appearance and the ensuing dialogue just escapes most audiences.

It turns out that she's also a student who attends same rural school where Jae-kyeong is supposed to study. The formula is not that creative, even by the standards of comic strips for girls (a rich, good-looking boy falling in love with a poor yet pure-hearted girl is the most favorite theme in the genre). Nor is it intricate in its own right when it comes to how the director gets the plot going.

As expected, there is a twist in the plot - a conventional device in knight-in-shining-armor tales. But it's also predictable if you're familiar with the genre and the director scatters obvious signs and suggestions almost everywhere.

What's important, however, is not the movie's tackiness. What is highly likely to rivet the audiences (especially male viewers) is the innocent image of actress Lee Yeon-hee. Her smile is disarming and her delicate features spruce up the otherwise dull storyline dramatically.

At one point, she spends some time with her hero in an open field, with a ray of sunlight descending upon her shoulders. The scene is a romantic portrait of two lovers with every key element in place: a beautiful, innocent-looking girl is strolling leisurely with a handsome boy on a peaceful autumn day.

The movie's storytelling technique is dull and cliche-laden; yet the superficial packaging deserves some credits thanks largely to the sparkling eyes of Lee and her attention-grabbing features.

Of course, it's entirely up to the romance-seeking couples to favor the packaging over the substance in this convoluted melodrama. After all, you don't care about the chocolate's sweetness on Valentine's Day as long as it comes in a beautiful package from your partner.

By Yang Sung-jin

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