Film: "Love Fiction"
Director/Writer: Jeon Gye-soo
Review Score: 3.5 / 5
Admittedly I find myself drawn to dramas and romantic comedies that dabble in the self-reflexivity of characters and their fates. What's the conflict? Where is the drama? What would these characters do in a particular situation? And "Love Fiction" just happens to be one of those films as director Jeon Gye-soo gives us a front row seat into a struggling novelists personal journey into life, love, and story's that run crooked between them.
Let me just say that I am writing this review with fat and slow fingers. I found the film to be rather a mixed bag of well-polished moments and scenes, but was also reeked of clichés and, ironically, rather poor character development. I caught myself taking a deep breath before I pressed start on this one, dreading another plain, yet palatable, Korean romantic comedy. I was surprised, at intially, to find the humour sharp, original, and very well captured on screen. That said, much of laughs I enjoy while watching the film weren't, perhaps, the regular Korean slapstick and screwball affairs. Which I honestly don't mind as much as it might sound, but still the prospect of 'more of the same' warranted some more oxygen.
Instead of checking the clock, I was hooked. In addition to the refreshing and quirky humour, our protagonist, Ha Jung-woo's character (the struggling novelist Joo-wol) was extremely likeable and, thankfully, given a considerable amount of flesh as a character. The 'struggling' artist starved for creativity and fresh ideas is as old as stories themselves, and as soon as I saw this set-up I somehow managed to put my reservations on hold, I was simply enjoying it all too much. Yes, you can definitely spot the film's destination from 120 minutes away, but I kept faith in the journey that Joo-wol had for Joo and me.
Under pressure from his publicist, friends, and himself, Joo-wol eventually heeds to the idea that a girlfriend might be just the thing that will cure his chronic, and increasingly troublesome, writer's block. By chance he meets Hee-jin (Gong Hyo-jin) in Germany while he was accompanying his friend there on a business trip, and she's perfect. Almost instantly Joo falls in love and from there he goes out of his way to woo the mysterious women that has his heart. Being a writer himself, he whips up a witty love letter and it goes down like a treat with Hee-jin. As the couple gets to know each other, personal issues arise that place serious roadblocks on the relationship. These issues are rather unfairly weighted towards our male hero, as it is he who appears to be the one preventing the couple from taking the next step.
Again, the film makes no claim to originality and nor should it. But "Love Fiction" almost had me as the film's first half whimsically swept me up with its edgy humour and comical editing and rhythm. Immersed and enchanted, I was then unpleasantly ejected from this pleasure as soon as things got a little serious, a bit safe, and all too melodramatic. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the film regardless if only it had started the way it finished, that way I would've have never been exposed to all things I loved about the film in the first place. No, scratch that because even a romantic comedy such as this should know that the last 15 minutes of a film cannot always be save by flashy editing and montages. I actually felt a little foolish when the film's music video (you'll know it when you see it) came up near the end, as it seemed to subvert all the good humour that had preceded it. A shame, indeed, but my personal attachments to the film's themes of 'art versus love', paired with its captivating first half, wasn't enough for me to feel the need to be too critical, or even worse, stop watching.
A feel good rom-com it is then, not to say that's not what the doctor ordered, but sometimes I do like a little surprise and sprinkling of suspense, just to spice things up a little. Of course in these kinds of films there can only really be one of two outcomes: they get together or they don't. That's probably why I am not cracking down the film as others might, that and the film is technically sound so no red flags there either (Jeon actually recieved an award from the 48th Poeksang Arts Awards for the screenplay). So it comes down to the journey then. True love or lost love, I am a flexible viewer either way, but if the journey wasn't one I wanted to go on in the first place, I'm generally done.
The film's final moments were heavy-handed and felt very rushed and, quite frankly, contained some lazy storytelling techniques. Almost every cliche cinematic or narrative technique was employed to convince the viewer of a dull conclusion that never should have been considered in the first place. It tasted almost like an executive decision had been made and the writer and director went to work to include the most improbably outcome within the shortest possible time, all to make the viewer happy. I wasn't happy.
Jeon Gye-soo's "Love Fiction" will mostly likely delight and entertain anyone who pulls this one off the shelf, but be warned because if its originality and crispness you're looking for you've come to wrong place. You will, in all honestly, be rinsing your month out for a while trying to get the questionable taste of the film's final 15 minutes out; but the fact of the matter is that the majority of Joo-wol's quest to find a balance between art, life and love is just too charming and enduring to hold a grudge. Kind of like armpit hair on a gorgeous woman.
- C.J Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* Christopher is a film writer and a graduate arts student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He lived and worked in South Korea for four years and there he channeled his passion for film into the Korean cinema scene. Driven by his rampant cinephilic needs and Korea's vibrant cinema, Chris now enjoys watching Korean films and writing about what he thinks of them.
Available on DVD from YESASIA
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