Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 28, 2022 8:37 pm 
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A Korean rom-com, risqué, blasé and sweet

Here we have a fairly conventional, and fun, Korean rom-com, with risky bits, a journalistic angle, and a sweet finale, with two very watchable actors in the leads.

Ham [or Mak] Ja-young (Jeon Jong-seo), on the brink of thirty, is a young woman who's just lost her boyfriend and her job and owes a lot of money. She's feisty and fresh ("has a daring personality," a site says). Park Woori (Son Sukku), four years older, wants to be a novelist, but is working on an online magazine. His editor (Kim Jae-Hwa), a ferocious, bossy, but elegant and sexy lady, shaking up the mag to save it, insists Woori has to write a sex column now, forget the sports one. He's lost his girlfriend too, and both Ja-young and Woori, after the manner of rom-coms, want to have a safe, unromantic affair and not get their hearts broken. And of course that doesn't quite work.

Ja-young (Jeon Jong-seo) and Woori meet with no previous experimentation on the dating app Love Bridge." His moniker is "Tweety Bird". Her's is "Sleeps Around." Upon meeting, they exchange their real names. Hers sounds-like "sleeps Once" and his sounds-like "the act of fucking."

The not-quite meet cute is well enough done to make one wish some of the preceding 25 minutes of chitchat with secondary characters had been skipped, but the Ja-young/Woori affair isn't meant to go too deep. And we needed to set up Woori's situation and meet Ja-young's girlfriends, especially her best friend, Sun-bin, a divorce lawyer, and her wise and elegant grandmother (Kim Young-Ok), important because her mother died shortly after her birth.

The meetup takes place, memorably, on New Year's Day. Ja-young got there early and seeing a blood donation truck, gave some as her New Year's good deed. This makes her hungry, which leads to a sit-down noodle meal. After a disagreement over buckwheat noodles, Ja-young suggests soju. They drink. She says she picked him on Love Bridge, since he asks, because he looked the least likely to have an STD. He blanches. "Even if a Prince Charming comes along," she adds, "he's no use if his dick is small." He chokes. "You're something else," he laughs.

They go to a hotel and have sex (not seen). Will there be more? He's interested, but she's non-committal. After all, she had wanted "nothing serious." She tells him so. But when Ja-young reports to her girlfriends, Sun-bin says she has a "FWB" now, and she doesn't deny it. (See my review of Will Gluck's 2011 Friends with Benefits with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake and a comparison with the, I thought, more intriguing Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher vehicle No Strings Attached.)

For meetup no. 2, the app pair start out with a really lengthy, drunken soju session this time, with mutual interrogations and opening-up. The setting and the activity are totally Hong Sang-soo, but the style and bright cinematography are Hollywood. This is not a European-festival-style movie; it's an entertainment, with jaunty music to accompany the drinking and the revelations to keep them light. They awaken in each other's arms and bed the next morning in another hotel, but they didn't have sex.

As this continues, with plenty of sex now, Woori is using the encounters for work in his "sex column." He doesn't describe the sex; he talks about the surprises and the feelings. There's a Situation here: he's mining a relationship - even if it's not one, yet - for titillating literary material. More and more people are reading the column. The editor is ecstatic when it gets over 500,000 hits, and takes the entire staff out to eat beef, promising them bonuses and a free trip. And this success is plausible partly because Ja-young is made to seem to us a truly original character, someone whose individuality young women would identify with and young men would find sexy.

But the more involved the soju and sex sessions become, the more attracted Woori is - on the verge of saying "I love you," the more uncomfortable he becomes with his column's success. Rising to over 700,000 hits doesn't help; it makes it worse. More pressure, more embarrassment, more shame. Though shame is not mentioned. When he is about to tell Ja-young it's over she drags him to her ex's wedding, which he willingly sabotages, though what he does is hidden and more malicious than criminal, and she realizes her plan of destroying the wedding was absurd and drags them away. With this act of complicity their mutual vibe is just too good for him to fess up now, and when she suggests they go to a fair next time they do. It's there, after a fun, romantic montage of rides, that he misplaces his smartphone and she finds it while he's in the loo, and the jig is up.

But what will happen next? You'll have to see the movie and find out.

Both of these are interesting, much admired actors: people will watch this movie for them, and to a lesser extent because Jeong Ga-young has shown herself in her previous three films to be a bold and distinctive woman director whose work is also entertaining. Son Sukku spent a lot of time in the US and Canada studying and speaks good English. He majored in visual arts and film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has been the CEO of a company, and in his military service volunteered for the "Zaytun Division" serving in war-torn Iraq. He has been in a popular Netflix series and been a director. He is quite famous and one can see why. With a few words exchanged with a woman met on a dating app he becomes immediately interesting. He has gravitas, an attractive, mysterious inwardness, and a wicked smile. As for Jeon Jong-seo (it was Jun Jong-seo before: so it goes with transliterations of Korean names), she came to wide attention through playing one of the lead roles in Lee Chang-dong's superb 2018 thriller Burning, one of the best films of that year's New York Film Festival. And that was only the beginning. She currently stars in the international Netflix series, "Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area."

Not pretentious, not earth-shaking, Nothing Serious is nonetheless full of scenes, mainly but not only the ones between Jeon Jong-seo and Son Sukku, that I'd be happy to watch again some day. These are characters you'd like to hang out with.

Nothing Serious 연애 빠진 로맨 ("Romance Without Love"), 94 mins., opened in Korea Nov. 24, 2021, and in Japan Jul. 8, 2022. It was screened for this review on a screener provided by the co-sponsors of the July 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. New York premiere.

Sunday Jul 31, 3:45pm (Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, Asia Society)

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