Having seen the "Cheese in the Trap" drama I already knew what to expect from the film version. Seol (played by Oh Yeon-seo) is a college student who is convinced that popular man on campus Jeong (played by Park Hae-jin) is secretly evil. Oddly enough this does not prevent her from entering into a relationship with him. The key difference between the two versions is that the world of the film version is quite a bit more dangerous. Several characters are straight up psychotic, to the point that Seol's concerns of being caught in a trap come off as well warranted.
"Cheese in the Trap - Movie" is probably the most feminist romance I have ever seen. The movie doesn't actually directly engage with feminist themes, it's just the backdrop that has strong patriarchal overtones. Sure, Seol wants love. Who doesn't? All the same men are dangerous. Even in rescue mode, the men of "Cheese in the Trap - Movie" are quite frightening. That they sometimes are in the process of beating up someone even more psychotic than they are does not make them any less frightening.
There's also In-ha (played by Yoo In-young), the token crazy woman. But even she's portrayed with quite a bit of ambiguity. Observe how as children In-ha and her brother In-ho (played by Park Ki-woong) were only able to escape from their abusive home because In-ha was aggressive enough to press for escape while the helpless In-ho cowered in the corner. In-ho, though a very passive character, nonetheless equals In-ha's levels of crazy when sufficiently pushed to the limit.
All of the more psychotic male characters are pretty passive actually, which is a bit surprising in context of how their tempers can explosively erupt. Ironically, Seol is the most wary of Jeong because he's the one with the most self-control. The real "Cheese in the Trap" for Seol is not mere handsomeness, but rather the promise of being able to solve problems with people whose mental hang-ups need therapy rather than friendship.
Jeong himself understands this quite well. I especially liked the scene where Jeol explains why he likes Seol, citing their common ground. There's no pretense of how either of them can rescue or fix the other. It's just, Jeong and Seol are both popular, well-liked people on campus mostly because they are too polite to refuse reasonable requests. This affects them negatively in very different ways but essentially they both just have the compulsive need to be liked.
While the theming is quite a bit stronger in the film version of "Cheese in the Trap" the sheer quantity of characters and unresolved subplots is a frequent reminder of how the story really is better suited for longer formats. At many points "Cheese in the Trap - Movie" feels like a highlight reel for people who already know the story. Observe how quickly the film starts, not even bothering with an introduction or opening credits. The laser focus definitely pays off though, with brutal dramatic beats interrupted by fleeting moments of cheerful romance.
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] "Cheese in the Trap - Movie""
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