Byeong-hoon (played by Uhm Tae-woong) has a simple mission in life. Help the lovelorn get dates by staging meet cute romantic comedy sequences, all for the sake of giving those poor lonely souls the courage to speak up to the objects of their amor. All sorts of narrative flourishes are necessary to make these schemes work, and strangely, they all feel totally necessary. Apparently it's easier to convince a guy to challenge an authority figure in a giant crowded room full of people than it is to just get him to say "I Like You" to the woman he likes.
Yes, romance can be a terrifying thing. And the best way to soften the blow is by making the situations so ridiculous, yet explaining the logic so reasonably, that the poor little guy has somehow been convinced that this will totally get her to like him. If "Cyrano Agency" sounds overly convoluted, that's because it is. That sense of unnecessary style, however, is the movie's entire charm, the essential basis of nearly all its jokes.
This film is the triumph of concept over rationality. Most romantic comedies work on concept rather than story- what makes "Cyrano Agency" special is that the element of deliberate manipulation is so obvious, so transparent, that it forces the viewer to engage Byeong-hoon's warped logic intellectually even as we laugh at the inevitable outcroppings of the actual plot. Yes, carrying an instrument case like that in the rain feels really awkward and strange. But it's also this totally amazing romantic gesture so guess what we're doing in the rainy scene?
But let's take that intellectual angle. Hee-joong (played by Lee Min-jung) is Byeong-hoon's ex-girlfriend. How does a man like Byeong-hoon, who understands everything about romance, manage to mess things up so badly with a woman he clearly still has feelings for? Well, because romance and love are completely different things. In fact, to some extent they might actually be diametrically opposed. When we finally get a good look at the event which ruptured the relationship, it's easy to see how in Byeong-hoon's eyes he turned into the sucker in somebody else's love story.
These darker elements mix in quite well with the movie's sense of humor. By not taking itself so seriously, "Cyrano Agency" does an excellent job opening itself up to questions of whether the agency's mission is a good one long-term, even if it's always doing so well in the moment. By a wide margin, the strongest relationship moments we get here are the ones that don't follow the script, but rather deal with the subtler intimacies of romantic partnerships- ones that can't be ignored with a sudden burst of clever writing.
"Cyrano Agency" is a funny movie that does good work with its greater themes, managing that all-too-rare combination- a speculative romantic comedy that avoids creating any kind of unrealistic expectations for our own real life relationships. The only real blemish to the movie's record is its poor character economy- not all of the members of the agency are clearly flushed out, and the final storyline obstacle practically comes out of nowhere. But that really speaks more to the strength of the concept that any concrete failing with the film itself. It's no surprise that "Cyrano Agency" was remade into the drama "Love Manipulation: Cyrano"- goodness knows there's enough introspective material here to go beyond the two hour runtime.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from YESASIA
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Cyrano Agency""
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