Does anything say “I love you” better than a high-maintenance low-profile commission? It will be a heck of a house, but whether the architect and his client will rekindle their lost love is far less certain in Lee Yong-ju’s Architecture 101 (trailer here), which screens Tuesday night as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s free Korean Movie Night in New York.
The rough around the edges Lee Seung-min is his firm’s best architect, but his boss is far better dealing with clients. At least, he is now somewhat less socially awkward than he was as an undergraduate architecture major. Needless to say, he is quite surprised when Yang Seo-yeon, the girl who broke his heart freshman year, hires him to rebuild her family home on Jeju Island. Despite her hotness and his geekiness, they had partnered together for their intro to architecture class project, which gave them the opportunity to take many long picturesque walks together through Seoul and also thereby providing the film with its title.
Initially reluctant to accept the commission, his work brings back all the painful memories he feared, as the audience sees in flashbacks. Of course, the end of their chaste pseudo-courtship was considerably more complicated than he realized at the time. It sure would make things neat and tidy if Lee and Yang could just pick up where they left off, but he has sort of moved on since freshman year.
Okay, you probably mostly know the score from here. Director Lee delivers most of the anticipated melodramatic goods, flashing forwards and backwards between the pair of star-crossed couples, erecting barriers to their unspoken love in each time period. Still, 101 is notable as a major departure from his previous film, the religiously themed horror movie Possessed. There are no spinning heads here. In fact, Lee exercises admirable restraint, by genre standards, largely trusting the circumstances of the central relationship to carry the film without a lot of added heart-string pulling.
Uhm Tae-woong is actually rather grounded and reasonably manly as the adult architect Lee, whereas his younger analog can be difficult to watch mope about. Still, it is not hard to understand why he fell for Bae Suzy’s ethereal coed. Han Ga-in also portrays Yang’s grown-up disappointments for affecting honesty and charisma.
Yes, there are all kinds of manipulation going on in 101, particularly with regards to the song that never quite became “their song.” However, the house that Lee builds is quite striking. Architectural Digest readers look for a weepy love story should inhale this film. While the exact structure was not built to last, the café “Seo-yeon’s House” now stands in its place, remodeled in a style reminiscent of the on-screen domicile.