Monday, March 12, 2012

Korean Rom-Com: Cyrano Agency

There is a reason Byung-hoon is emotionally damaged. He once studied in France. At least the trip inspired a way to make his acting chops pay the bills. The former stage thespian now runs a rag tag service that helps the romantically inept win the objection of their affections. However, things get a bit complicated when their next assignment turns out to be his ex. Far more romantic than farcical, Kim Hyeon-seok’s Cyrano Agency (trailer here) is a strong kick-off for the Korean Cultural Service’s It’s a Fine Romance film series, when it screens this Tuesday in Tribeca—for free.

First, Byung-hoon and his co-conspirators show the audience how it is supposed to be done, effortlessly guiding a clueless schlub into winning the heart of an attractive coffee barista. Their next client, hedge fund manager Sang-yong, is more of a challenge, but he has some real money. He is also unusually awkward socially and has a bad habit of drifting away from the script.

To make matters even trickier, he has retained the agency to help him woo Hee-joong, with whom Byung-hoon has some short but intense history in Paris. His right hand accomplice Min-young quickly suspects he is actually trying to undermine their mission. Indeed, she seems quite ambiguously attuned to her boss’s emotional state.

Yes, viewers probably expect they know exactly where Cyrano Agency is headed and they are right, to an extent. However, writer-director Kim hews surprisingly close to the vibe of Rostand’s play, before capping it off with a rather cleverly endearing ending. Worry not—there is still plenty of madcap door-slamming, as the Cyrano Agency troupe scrambles to keep their scripts on track.

The ridiculously attractive cast does not hurt either. As Hee-joong, Lee Min-jung projects the right balance of sass and vulnerability. Even her caustic wine-bar owner sister is hot. However, Park Sin-hye’s Min-young out cutes just about everyone, anywhere. Uhm Tae-woong certainly looks like a tragic hero, whereas Daniel Choi actually humanizes the Sang-yong, the tongue-tied suitor, far more than most Cyrano pastiches.

A huge hit when released in Korea, Cyrano Agency probably also sold quite a few CDs for Greek diva Agnes Baltsa, using her “There Will Be Better Days, Even For Us” to beautifully set the love triangle’s tone early in the film. This is way better than your average rom-com, from any country. Recommended with affection, Cyrano Agency screens tomorrow (3/13) in New York at the Tribeca Cinemas, as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s long running free showcase of Korean Cinema.