He broods, she’s cute, it’s all very tragic, and ends with an unusually long dramatic freeze frame. That is Kwak Kyung-taek’s A Love (Korean trailer here) in a nutshell— unadulterated popcorn romance. If you enjoy sweeping weepers, A Love was your cup of tea at the NYKFF.
If we must discuss plot, it is a generous portion of star-crossed love with an occasional side dish of violence. Our lovers briefly meet in grade school, where In-ho finds himself compelled to come to Mi-ju’s defense. However, her family’s financial ruin leads to their first separation. In high school he unknowingly forms the most unlikeliest of friendships with her punk brother. When her brother and mother die in a fit of family dysfunction, In-ho again steps up to be Mi-ju’s protector, which she will need. Her late mother’s loan shark has an ugly method of collecting her bad debts, foiled at the last minute by our hero. Unfortunately, he is sent to jail as a result, leading to their second separation.
Years pass and eventually our hero is released. In-ho gets a job on the docks where he attracts the attention of the powerful chairman of a multinational corporation, who promotes him to serve as his bodyguard-enforcer. Eventually, one of his duties entails looking after the Chairman’s new kept mistress, who of course would be the lost love of his life.
While far removed in time and tone, Love’s fundamental plot somewhat parallels that of Hwang Jin-Yi. Young lovers are torn apart, only to come together again when the protector must facilitate the sexual dealings of his true love. Kwak directs it all with shameless indulgence, so despite holes in its wildly emotional plot, on some level the film works, until it’s climax finally goes too far over-the-top .
Joo Jin-mo broods like a champion as In-ho and is believable in his judo scenes. Park Si-yeon’s Mi-ju quite convincingly becomes the personification of vulnerability and sensitive regret, letting us accept their unrepentantly romantic relationship. Is it uncool to admit I enjoyed such a sentimental film?
Despite some similar plot elements, Hwang Jin-Yi is a serious, well-crafted prestige picture that beautifully recreates Korea’s Joseon Dynastic era. Song Hye-kyo is great as the celebrated kisaeng poet, in a film that also has plenty of sweeping romance in addition to its historical speculation. It screens at BAM as part of the NYKFF on Sunday.