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'Someone Special' defies conventions

2004/06/24 | Permalink | Source

With a beautiful actress and model like Lee Na-young in the title role, a director might be tempted to succumb to the tried-and-boring Romantic Comedy formula. But director Jang Jin is not ordinary. Neither is his latest film, "Someone Special", which opens nationwide on Friday.
The film starts with a romantic narration: "Love is like taking a walk at dawn. Someone who walks with his or her love will understand what love is". Against a picturesque backdrop (beautiful trees, a winding road and all that), a couple is indeed walking silently and peacefully, as if trying to hold on to their precious moments together.

Our leading man, Dong Chi-sung (Jung Jae-young), is, of course, happy - until his girlfriend suddenly breaks up with him. It is hardly surprising. Such things do happen in real life.

But Chi-sung loses his cool entirely, kicking ferociously, screaming hoarsely and spitting. It is amusing to watch Jung Jae-young in the role, given that he has built up his movie career mainly as a tough guy in films like "Silmido".

"Someone Special" (2004)

Chi-sung is an odd character. After being a star pitcher in high school and college, he hurt his shoulder, moved to the outfield and was demoted to the minor leagues. The breakup with his girlfriend, we learn, was the last in a series of failed attempts to find love.

One day in September, the professional baseball player visits a doctor after experiencing constant nosebleeds and is told that he has a malignant tumor in his lung. He is given three months to live.

Deeply depressed, he goes to a friend's bar to drink away his pain. Not a heavy drinker, Chi-sung passes out and wakes up to find himself in a hotel room with the female bartender.

When Chi-sung asks how he ended up in the hotel room, Han Yi-yeon (Lee Na-young) states matter-of-factly that she found him drunk, so she picked him up and carried him in a box. She also tells him he does not have bad manners after drinking. Her extreme coolness, or seeming disinterest, deserves attention because it contributes to the movie's offbeat humor.

Chi-sung now laments that he does not possess three things that other people have: next year - because of the tumor - a real experience of love, and bad manners after drinking. (This last item is not generally viewed as a problem in a society where bad-mannered drinkers are never in short supply.)

As Chi-sung heads home, he hears a familiar story on a popular confessional radio program. Someone named "Writing Princess" has sent a letter describing how she carried a man in a box to a hotel room.

It turns out that Yi-yeon knew the struggling baseball player when he was a star player in high school. And the encounter at the bar was far from accidental - she took a part-time job at a bar he frequented in order to get close to him.

Yi-yeon also lives nearby, just 39 steps from his house, and she has watched him closely over the past 10 years - but never dared to talk to him, nurturing an unrequited love.

In a movie in which the main character is destined to die of cancer, one might expect the atmosphere to be gloomy, or at least not cheery. But playful twists abound, with both main characters cracking a number of unintentional jokes that result in a somewhat quirky tone throughout.

For instance, Chi-sung attempts to hasten his death by running a Marathon. Instead of dying, he runs fast and steady, taking away a kimchi refrigerator as a prize. In another scene, a serious-looking guy stands up in a cafe as if he is about to announce someone's death. But in a solemn tone, he informs the other patrons of a meeting for members of an online community - known as "jeongmo" in Korean and showing the director's insight into this widespread social trend.

Although the storytelling repeatedly and intentionally strays from the main plot, Jang essentially seems to toss out a trite yet challenging question: "What is love, after all?" But it seems that he does not want a definitive answer. Or there is no intention of offering an answer, as the couple in the film weave a new kind of love story without really tackling the issue.

The English title, "Someone Special", is misleading. Its original Korean title is "Aneun-yeoja", which translates roughly into "Just a Woman I Know". Chi-sung doesn't know his stalker's name until the end of the movie, driving home one of the points the director wants to get across to an audience that undoubtedly expects something or someone "special".

Yet with so-so romantic comedies galore in the Korean cinema, "Someone Special" is special: It breaks down conventions audaciously and raises, in a quirky way, a not-so-boring question to ponder.

By Yang Sung-jin

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