By Kwaak Je-yup
Whether he likes it or not, the films of Kim-Jho Gwang-soo have come to embody more than just entertainment. For a country where the population is largely unfamiliar with homosexuality, the works of an openly gay director and his portrayals of life in the closet are often the only medium for the general heterosexual audience to grasp the concept of same-sex relationships.
In his debut feature film "Two Weddings and a Funeral", which opens next week, KimJho seems to disregard this responsibility. Light on logic and heavy on cheap humor and melodrama - with cringeworthy amateurish music and sound effects - the movie portrays self-celebration and self-parody at the same time.
Gleaning from his words at a recent press conference, he seems perfectly happy to wave the rainbow flag (figuratively speaking) rather than to create a realistic narrative.
"There is a difference between homosexual and heterosexual lifestyles", he said, firmly at this reporter's question about the awkward flow of the film.
While few would dispute his comment in a general context, this debut work is neither a good story nor does it help raise awareness. He has thrown away a major opportunity to prove his worth as a serious writer and director.
The movie begins with a wedding between a lesbian, Hyo-jin, (Ryu Hyun-kyung from 2010's "Petty Romance") and a gay man, Min-su, (TV actor Kim Dong-yoon making his feature film debut). Both promising doctors at a general hospital, the colleagues agree to marry so Hyo-jin can legally adopt a child with her ten-year lover Seo-young (Jung Ae-yun, also in her first major film), and Min-su can please his parents while maintaining his closeted lifestyle.
The arrangement seems less rosy afterwards, as the fake couple tries to fulfill the duties of straight newlyweds and feign happiness. But when gossip about the women's relationship takes the hospital by storm, they need to decide how to respond - to run away or to come clean.
The synopsis has the right ingredients for an entertaining film: the subject's novel, the suspense stems from deception and there's a dramatic resolution. As the title implies, death is involved as well.
But Kim Jho fills most of the two-hour running time making a fun, sassy comedy that often has no substance to add to the main plot. The brilliant supporting cast playing the group of gay friends, especially Lee Seung-joon ("Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon", 2011) as the pack's leader Gyeong-nam and Park Jung-pyo as grocery store owner Tina, steal every scene with their exaggerated effeminate mannerisms. After so much of it, however, they seem like caricatures.
While the director focuses on the stereotypical novelty of homosexuality, the protagonist, Min-su, is robbed of a logical narrative. After the wedding, he quickly finds a man named Seok (musical theater star Song Yong-jin). They fall in love in an instant and everything is perfect until they are about to be outed. How are we supposed to believe that a committed couple, gay or straight, is all paradise and no trouble? A comic book love story looks more realistic next to this feature.
Song admitted at the press conference that the actors, all straight in real life, had trouble understanding the fairy tale-like progression of the relationship. But KimJho would not have it any other way. That is how gay people have it, he claimed. It is hardly convincing.
For those looking to see a real same-sex relationship, the lesbian couple seems like a better bet, whose actresses overcome the relatively brief time on screen to bring to life authentic characters.
To the director's credit, the fact that he could get a gay-themed movie fully funded - and avoid an adult-only rating - is a milestone in this extremely risk-averse cinematic world, and several actors manage to shine despite the spotty screenplay.
Still the value of this offbeat feature is questionable if it were not for the subject's novelty. KimJho (perhaps unknowingly) raises some interesting themes unavailable in the heterosexual discourse but ultimately they are left unexplored. Even for a comedy, the film is all fluff and little substance.
"Two Weddings and a Funeral" opens on June 21 in theaters nationwide. Runs 106 minutes. Rated 15 and over. Distributed by Jinjin Pictures.
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