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CHO EUN-JI: PERHAPS LOVE 장르만 로맨스 (SOUTH KOREA, 2022) - NYAFF

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RYU SEUNG-NYONG, MIN JIN-SUNG IN PERHAPS LOVE

Amorous confusion and literary inspiration

The Korean title of this this amusing and well made romantic comedy means "Genre Only Romance" and you should not confuse it with the glamorous 2005 Chinese mainland-set musical, English title also Perhaps Love (Chinese title 如果·愛), directed by Hong Kong's Peter Ho-Sun Chan and starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xun Zhou and Jacky Cheung, which concluded the Venice film festival. This lower profile new film, a bold farce about love and writing with partner-switching and gayness, may really be more successful at what it sets out to do than Peter Chan's overblown (well, grand) musical. It may depart a lot from reality, especially with its gay-friendliness (word has it that mainstream Korean attitudes and practices remain pretty homophobic). But romantic comedies don't have to be realistic, and the gay element may soften Korean prejudices a little. The well-written screenplay by writer Kim Na-Deul makes things complicated but keeps them easy to follow - even for one who finds Korean names difficult.

The action starts with Hyeon (Ryu Seung-nyong), a best-selling writer who has been creatively blocked and written nothing in the seven years that have passed since the publication of his wildly successful first novel. His best friend is his publisher Soon-mo (Kim Hee-won), who is dating his ex-wife Mi-ae (Oh Na-ra). Things get complicated when Hyeon sees Mi-ae and they have wild sex. Mi-ae and Hyeon have a problematic adolescent son Seong-kyeong (Sung Yoo-bin), the reason why they're still in touch- who is witness to their sexual re-encounter and is very disturbed and confused by it.

While visiting a gay writer friend, Hyeon meets Yoo-jin (Mu Jin-sung), a young, also gay, aspiring writer who's been living with the friend. Yoo-jin follows up by visiting Hyeon, revealing that he's had a huge gay crush on the blocked older writer for a while - and leaves the manuscript of a novel he's written for Hyeon to read. Hyeon politely deflects the come-on, since he's totally straight, and at first, of course, ignores the MS. But when he gets to it, the MS turns out to be brimming with talent. Hyeon shows it to Soon-mo. They arrange to have Yoo-jin live with Hyeon and collaborate on a writing project incorporating Yoo-jin's novel. Awkward for Hyeon, but lovely for Yoo-jin, though he maintains a safe and unthreatening distance, writing up a storm and seeting with well-repressed desire, though also haunting Hyeon by attending his writing classes now. Hyeon is inspired to write again, but things get complicated, and funny, because he's sleeping in the same room with a young man who's wildly in love with him. I'm not sure how the Korean audience reacts to this, but it can't help but be titillating, at least for the gay audience, especially since Mu Jin-sung, who plays Yoo-jin, is very cute. So is Sung Yoo-bin, who plays the hilariously emotionally unstable young Seong-kyeong.

A funny thing in itself is the filmmakers' attempt - which doesn't have to be realistic, of course - to depict what the duo writing project would be like, with multiple media - pencil, computer and split screens. A major focus of Perhaps Love obviously is confused, misguided, or misdirected desire, but another big interest is the male ego. Hyeon's is constantly under attack, though he's stable - or depressed, not a prima donna or worthy of being one. To keep him in his place, in the background there' also a woman writer on the scene - though never honored by being given on-screen dialogue - who's shortlisted for the Booker Prize. If she wins the award (which she does, at the worst possible moment for Hyeon), Hyeon is going to be even further eclipsed.

There's also a whole slow-burning romance between Hyeon's adolescent son Seong-kyeong, who''s got plenty of time, since he uses his confusion over his parents' illicit sexual encounter as an excuse, not for the first time, to quit going to school or showing up for tutoring. A quirky young neighbor, Jeong-won (Lee Yoo-young), who says she's an actress, starts following Seong around. It's a big tease, and Seong is lonely, having just lost a girlfriend who dumped him when she got pregnant by someone else.

Except for the intense moment of ex-sex, there is no sex in this movie. What there is, is a lot of hilarity and confusion revolving around writers and writing and misplaced desire. Hyeohn and Yoo-jin are joint celebrities now, Yoo-jin is under contract to the publisher for future work, and all the mess has led to Hyeon being in the running again as an important author thanks to the jointly authored book, Two Men. He acknowledges publicly that Yoo-jin is a greater talent. But he has met the deadline and hasn't had to pay the huge penalty to the publishers and investors he was looking at if he didn't turn in another book.

The story winds up with the two collaborative authors, Hyeon and Yoo-jin. They plan to go their separate ways, but they reunite by unexpectedly meeting April 1 in Užupis, the town in Lithuania, actually a neighborhood of Vilnius, that every April 1 becomes an independent country for that one day, a place that Yoo-jin had long fantasized about and once described to Hyeon. This leaves a lot of other threads a bit dangling, but is a sweet, colorful change of location for an ending.

Perhaps Love 장르만 로맨스, 113 mins., debuted in Korea Nov. 17, 2021 on the internet; IMDb also lists it as opening in Mongolia Jan. 28, 2022. Cho Euon-ji won best director at the BaekSang Arts Awards. At the NYAFF Ryu Seung-ryong receives the inaugural Best from the East Award, which honors "a singularly outstanding performance in a film" and the film is included in the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film Competition. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere. On a official Korean website for Perhaps Love there are more stills than I've ever encountered for a movie - 106, an embarrassment of riches indeed. The glossy website makes this seem like an important production. I wonder if it was really only opened on the internet. Perhaps Netflix Korea?

NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
Tuesday Jul 26, 9:00pm (Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center)
Director Cho Eun-ji and Actor Ryu Seung-ryong will attend the screening.

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