Korean Release Date: 08th of August, 2010
UK DVD Release Date: 08th October 2012 (Terracotta)
Running Time: 91 mins.
Directors: Kim Jeong-Hoon
Writers: Kim Jeong-Hoon
Starring: Lee Sun-Kyun, Choi Gang-Hee, Ryoo Hyoun-Kyoung, Song Yoo-Ha, Oh Jung-Se, Baek Do-Bin, Lee Won-Jong, Jo Eun-Ji, Hwang Bo-Ra
Petty Romance is the directorial debut of Kim Jeong-Hoon and my first ever Korean romantic comedy. It combines a raunchy but primarily cute tale of lust and comic books in a smooth and amusing film which masks all of its familiar elements with imagination and two great performances.
Talented cartoonist Jung-Bae (Lee Sun-Kyun) is constantly turned down by publishing companies because of his poor story lines. So when an adult cartoon contest is announced offering a $100,000 prize, he finds himself entering and to raise his chances of winning, he hires a sex advice columnist, Da-Rim (Choi Kang-Hee), a self-claimed expert on relationship and love-making with big imagination and zero experience. For the cartoon competition, Da-Rim comes up with the idea of a female assassin, Ma Mi-So, who keeps her male victims captive for erotic kicks.
Despite initial impressions it soon dawns on them that the two are ill matched but they team up for a chance at winning the lucrative prize and soon they are bringing out their respective wildest fantasies. Will they be able to complete the task and win the competition?
Released in 2010, the same year as other, darker Korean titles like Desire to Kill, Bedevilled and The Man from Nowhere, Petty Romance is the sort of film I would let slip beneath my movie radar. Although I will watch any film, including films of the slow-cinema/rom-com stable, my hit rate with Korean romantic comedies and romance in general is awful. I have even resisted the temptations of the mega-hits My Sassy Girl and Failan. The closest I have come is Duelist which was a historical romance packed with stylish fights and the gorgeous Ha Ji-Won. Perhaps I have been put off by western rom-coms. I suppose if I were to pick a film as an entry into the territory of Korean romance/romantic comedy I could not find a better one than this as it contains a large dose of manwha (Korean comic books) with erotic elements and fighting sequences.
The film adopts comic aesthetics with ease. It is not just for style but to chart the thoughts of the two leads. Thought bubbles are deployed to demonstrate what they fantasise about, there are split screen reaction shots which segments the view in a similar fashion to comic books and in really imaginative sequences fantasy invades reality with characters popping off the page, interacting with the actors and scenery. Indeed, it is in the comic world where most sex and violence takes place and it adds a welcome layer of visual interaction as the comic book illustrations, drawn by Seok Jeong-Hyeon, are stylish although, despite all talk about how the visuals give the film an original sheen the comic book’s lead character, Ma Mi-So looks and acts A LOT like that Japanese video game character Bayonetta. This reliance on Japanese media comes as little surprise considering the fact that a lot of Korean films are based on Japanese novels/manga.
A lot of the sex and violence is fantastical, comical even and this prevents it from being too steamy and adds to the sense of fun and cuteness. It also works into the idea that the two lead characters really do not have a clue about what they are doing and makes their creative and personal journey amusing.
The main characters and their chemistry are engaging. As is the fashion in rom-coms, the romantic leads as played by Lee Sun-Kyun and Choi Gang-Hee are opposites but, for a change, the main male character is not an idiot and the main female lead breaks all conventions expected from an Asian lady which is where the comedy is generated.
Indeed, it is like the gender roles are reversed as Jung-Bae, despite being in the nerdy world of comic books, defies being a total cliché and is handsome and thoughtful, his only downside being a tendency to over intellectualise – “Who says comics should be funny?”. Da-Rim is, unlike stereotypical good girls, is earthy and brash. She is creative, observant and intelligent but also a bit of a lazy pig with a hilariously high opinion of herself. She covers her short-comings up with confidence but this mix of lout and lady drives the male lead insane.
Lee Sun-Kyun and Choi Gang-Hee are dynamic as Jung-Bae and Da-Rim, the two bringing waves of creativity and likeability with amusing misguidedness rooted in character flaws. It is Choi Gang-Hee who takes the spot-light as she breaks the classic image of the Asian lady by being incredibly raunchy and flawed while Lee Sun-Kyun’s charisma makes three-dimensional a character that could have been slight.
The two well defined and likeable with sensitivity and intelligence and humanity which meant that no matter how contrived their romantic journey became (in typical rom-com fashion a simple conversation could have warded off any threats to their relationship), I hung in there. Like a screwball comedy, they engage in fast paced chatter where the two push each other to reveal more of their feeling to themselves while they trade barbs which starts with “I come up with a story and you draw!” and becomes steamier as the two pick apart each other’s fantasies.
Petty Romance is an apt title for a film that makes great comedy out of the difference between the two protagonists and the fantasies cooked up in magazines and comics and real life romance. This would be enough for any run of the mill film to get a green-light in Hollywood but the unique selling point of erotic comics allows the film to mix cool animated action scenes and sexy and funny love scenes which chart the couple’s growth and imagination while also allowing the film to approach familiar territory in an engagingly different way. I liked this film more than I thought I would and I recommend this to anyone into Korean rom-coms or not.
- Making of
- Interview of lead actor and actress
- Korean Teaser Trailer
- Stills Gallery
The extras for this include a ten minute ‘making of’ which features very little actual material about the making of the film. Indeed, it was like a series of promotional videos for the movie were stitched together. What this ‘making of’ does provide is what the actors think about the film and each other. Rather interestingly they do show some of the scenes that were cut from the final movie. The other major feature is the two brief interviews provided by the lead actors but they repeat near word for word what they say in the ‘making of’.