She has a crush on him. But she cannot ask him out because she's timid and shy. Worse, she helplessly observes how he suffers from a broken relationship with another woman. She is always close by him, but he thinks of her as just a good friend, not a woman for a deeper relationship. After all, love is elusive, isn't it?
"Lost in Love
" (Sarangeul notchida), directed by Choo Chang-min
, is about people who have difficulty in telling the truth and lack courage when it comes to relationships. The subject is familiar with Koreans (or other Asians) because cases of being unable to reveal true feelings abound due to the cultural tradition of cherishing reticence over garrulousness.
The pain of failing to talk about affectionate emotions is best showcased in "Love Letter"
, a Japanese romantic film by Shunji Iwai, which still mesmerizes Korean fans. The surprising revelation at the end of the 1995 classic is so irresistibly moving - even by today's enhanced filmmaking standards - that it still leaves many Korean moviegoers with sad tears in their eyes.
Audiences of "Lost in Love
" are also likely to shed tears - not because they are moved by the indescribable affection toward their lovers featured in the film but because they may struggle with irresistible yawning. The main character is Yoo-jae, played by Sol Kyung-gu
. He's a college boat racer and then becomes a coach later. Short-tempered and insensitive, Yoo-jae lives alone in a dark little apartment, littered with beer cans, dirty clothes and garbage.
But Yoo-jae is a fairly lucky man because Yeon-su (Song Yoon-ah
), his college friend, has a crush on him. Not a short-lived crush, but a long-term one, though why she loves such an incompetent man in the first place is a mystery that is never fully explained in this supposedly romantic film.
The story goes back to the college days when the two are good friends. And it takes a huge leap of faith when Sol, 38, pretends to be a college student in his early 20s. From the very opening scene, Yoo-jae gets dumped by his girlfriend (perhaps she's much more foresighted than Yeon-su) and he shows the worst of a man when jilted: he breaks a window with his bare knuckles while drunk and even confronts his innocent coach who punishes him for skipping training sessions in the name of coping with the breakup.
Immature? As with most men, Yoo-jae is not only immature but also utterly insensitive. Some of the refined scenes in the movie happen at bus terminals. The first bus terminal footage is where Yeon-su struggles to make a decision about whether she should stay one night in a remote village for Yoo-jae, who is serving in the army (Seol pretends to be a low-ranking soldier but he looks like a general).
In the country's military service system, visitors usually can bring the soldiers out of the barracks and stay one night outside - a sort of brief, informal leave. Yeon-su, however, is not sure whether he gets the message: staying one night, certainly, means more than just talking about their college days all night.
Yoo-jae doesn't show any emotional signs about such a romantic situation. Instead, he just urges her to get out of the restroom where she's trying to make a decision and hop onto the bus which is about to leave. Finally, she gives up and heads for Seoul, with the man waving cheerfully.
Fast forward and 10 years later, Yeon-su is running a pet clinic. One day, they happen to meet again and slip into an unexpected romantic event that surely forces Yoo-jae to rethink their relationship. But, again, he fails to understand the true feelings of Yeon-su after what he sees as just an embarrassing one-night stand.
The stupidity of the man - or men in general when it comes to relationships - is featured again at another bus terminal, this time the one near Yeon-su's hometown. When she returns to her hometown to handle a tragic incident in her family, Yoo-jae begins to think of her as a love interest.
His belated realization that they might become a couple leads to the awkward meeting at her hometown. But she doesn't have any room in her heart for him any longer. This time, Yoo-jae hops on the bus and heads for Seoul, leaving her behind.
Although the two bus terminal scenes are refreshing in terms of cinematic symbolism, the overall quality of the movie is as coarse as the manner of Sol. At a recent press preview, Sol greeted reporters by saying "gae-nyeon". He's playing on word in a highly disrespectful manner. This year is "Dog Year" according to the lunar calendar, and the artificial combination of the Korean pronunciation means a four-letter word. Nonetheless, Sol half-jokingly and half-seriously continued to use the derogatory term for women ahead of the preview.
Seol, who starred in action films like "Public Enemy" and "Silmido
" may be a seasoned actor who knows how to breathe life into tough-talking and justice-enforcing characters, but his acting for Yoo-jae in "Lost in Love
" is awkward, exaggerated and unrealistic.
Realism, though, is outside of the silver screen. In connection with the release of the romantic movie, rumors flared up that Seol has separated from his wife. Last week, he admitted in a local report that he and his wife have been living separately for the past four years, but have no plan to divorce.
Real-life scandal aside, what could bother the audiences is the main characters' excessively timid attitude toward their relationships. Another problem is its ending. Perhaps director Choo Chang-min
has attempted to draw some tears from viewers by conjuring up a twist in the plot at the last moment, but its abruptness does not help the already shaky storytelling. So the title "Lost in Love
" may come as more than intuitive and insightful for those who may get lost while watching this much-publicized flick.
By Yang Sung-jin