By Lee Hyo-won
With seasoned radio producer Lee Jae-ik and "Singles" filmmaker Kwon Chil-in teaming up for a rom-com set at a radio studio, "Wonderful Radio" seems to have all the right ingredients for a feel-good jukebox movie. On top of that it includes a star-studded cast and cameos by some of the biggest icons in the local music industry.
However, it ends up like user-created content or at best a grossly overdrawn music video starring celebrities, as episodic humor and dashes of cheap melodrama drag the plot along. The densely culture-coded film may make a mediocre date movie but is less likely to have ancillary success overseas - the jokes are difficult to understand unless you grew up listening to 1980s-'90s K-pop, and won't necessarily appeal to pan-Asian "hallyu" (Korean wave) fans.
Actress of the hour Lee Min-jung is designed to look very pretty in her role as Jin-a, a washed out singer hosting an unpopular radio show and receiving occasional invitations to perform at an elementary school class reunion and the like.
Though nearing 30, middle-age in the entertainment industry, it's difficult for Jin-a to forget her glory days as the front woman of idol band Purple (as if to make this any clearer she's always sporting something in the color). She is in perennial denial of her situation as she hosts her show on a whim, changing song requests to her old hits, and harassing her poor fan-turned-manager Dae-geun (Lee Kwang-soo) for her own shortcomings.
Producer Jae-hyeok (Lee Jung-jin), known for getting the job done but notorious for his less-than-pleasant personality, is hired to save "Wonderful Radio" from its pitiful state - and as expected, to bicker with Jin-a before eventually romancing her.
On top of feigning a romantic comedy (the chemistry between the two leads is almost non-existent), "Wonderful Radio" sets out to be a coming-of-age film as it traces Jin-a's efforts to pull herself out of a slump. Jae-hyeok challenges her with the task of creating a new program to boost the show's ratings and our protagonist is inspired by her mother (Kim Hae-sook actually brings something compelling to the film, but "Wonderful Radio" neglects to probe this) to invite members of the audience to share heartrending anecdotes and belch out their favorite song.
The idea turns out to be a hit and puts Jin-a back on the pop-scene map. But here the movie makes the mistake of forcing reactions from viewers not from the main trunk of the drama but rather from these tear jerking anecdotes introduced as part of the radio show. It could have demonstrated how these life stories have a profound impact on Jin-a's growth as an individual, but simply stops short of showing her shed a few tears and utter a few superficial statements such as "The radio is my life now".
Meanwhile her character is portrayed as being more than just a pretty face but a musically talented songwriter. She is encouraged by even arch nemesis-turned-boyfriend material Jae-hyeok to work on a new solo album. Just when things start going smoothly, a former member of Purple, now a popular actress backed by a corrupt agent (funnyman Kim Jung-tae), tries to sabotage Jin-a's reputation.
"Wonderful Radio" does provide a slice of realism as it demonstrates the impact of cyber terrorism, the degree to which tabloid press and vehement comments and rumors people spread online can hurt somoeone. But such elements are not enough to smooth the film's overall disjointed flow.
A Showbox/Mediaplex release, "Wonderful Radio" opens in theaters on Jan. 5.
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