For all the movie's dark, essentially melodramatic marketing, "A History of Jealousy" initially plays out as a mostly cute romance. Soo-min (played by Nam Gyu-ri) and Won-ho (played by Oh Ji-ho) meet again after a long time at a social event with three of their other friends. So of course, happy memories flow forth about how they first met ten years ago in happier times. Back then they had more mundane problems, like trying to evade police brutality.
Weirdly enough the whole being chased down by a SWAT team with riot gear part of the story is by far the most cheerful and cute part of "A History of Jealousy". Somehow, writer/director Jung In-bong manages to make that sordid opening into a genuinely good meet cute story. Unfortunately Won-ho's political sympathies don't really have much of a presence for the rest of the story. After a mostly happy courtship Soo-min and Won-ho's happy romance manages to slowly collapse.
Why exactly it collapsed I honestly can't tell you. "A History of Jealousy" is so deliberately drawn out after its initially strong setpieces that the love between Soo-min and Won-ho just kind of fizzles unremarkably. This might almost seem like a realistic take on failed relationships, except that "A History of Jealousy" then moves on to have its male characters obsess over Soo-min's apparent frigidity for the remainder of the runtime.
The undertones to this, while obviously creepy, are for the most part pointless. While I initially thought the five friends meeting in the present day would be the movie's main critical framing device, for the most part the story is chronologically set in the past and moves forwards. Which is just as well. Since all the middle-aged actors are playing younger versions of themselves, I imagine it would have been difficult after a certain point which time period we're in, since no one ever really changes over the course of the story.
Mostly the characters, all five of them, just wallow in perpetual angst except for occasional oddly lucid moments of inebriation or happiness. Oh, I should note, while promotion for "A History of Jealousy" has made it sound like the movie is an ensemble piece, in reality everyone except Soo-min and Won-ho is so thinly developed they might as well not be in the movie at all. On exactly one occasion one of them acts in a bitter jealous manner that causes a lot of problems for Soo-min. Otherwise though, they either just mope around or listen to other characters moping around.
A sudden unseen turn for the violent in the ending doesn't do much to help "A History of Jealousy"'s aimless nature. That climactic act of violence I just mentioned wasn't even an act of jealousy, just generic anger and rage. I look back at "A History of Jealousy" as a film and I'm honestly just not sure what I was even supposed to get out of it. The movie's a melodrama about characters who are mildly unlikable in generally boring ways.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "A History of Jealousy""
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