“Couples” is a Korean remake of Japanese director Kenji Uchida’s popular 2004 offbeat romantic comedy “A Stranger of Mine”, helmed by Jeong Yong Ki, who previously enjoyed success with commercial fare such as “The Righteous Thief” and “Once Upon A Time in Corea”. Like the original, the new version is by no means a straightforward genre outing, following a series of overlapping tales of various couples whose lives intersect thanks to bank robberies, car crashes and a variety of deceptions. Headlined by popular actor Kim Joo Hyuk (“In Love and the War”), the film is very much an ensemble piece, with support from a host of recognisable faces including Lee Si Young (“Meet the In-Laws”), Lee Yoon Ji (“Dream High”), Gong Hyung Jin (“Life is Beautiful”), and Oh Jung Se (“Petty Romance”).
The film kicks off with café owner Yoo Suk (Kim Joo Hyuk) having a particularly bad day, experiencing financial difficulties, still being unable to track down missing fiancé Na Ri (Lee Si Young) and getting caught up in a bank robbery which sees him accused of sexual harassment by an unpleasant woman. There is one silver lining in the form of attractive off-work traffic cop Ae Yeon (Lee Yoon Ji) who he gets tied to during the heist, though he puts the spark between them to one side after his friend and private detective Bok Nam (Oh Jung Se) gets in touch saying that he has tracked down Na Ri. From here, things get even more complicated as the truth behind her absence gradually becomes clear, and with Ae Yeon having troubles of her own.
“Couples” is a great example of combining different genres to entertaining effect. Although Korean romantic comedies are for the most part a fairly standard lot, and films featuring overlapping narrative threads have been common fare for some years now, Jeong Yong Ki successfully brings the various elements together to produce something fresh and fun. Whilst the film isn’t quite up to the masterful genre blending of Jang Jin, it’s well-crafted and reasonably clever throughout, with an intriguing narrative and cunning structure which slowly pulls the viewer into the story and manages to spring a few pleasing surprises. The script itself is sharp and frequently very funny, with some neat subversions of romantic comedy expectations and a few good gag set pieces along the way, and this aids it in holding the interest and keeps things moving at a fast pace. The film isn’t perfect in this respect and does get a bit repetitious during the middle, though it definitely wins points for effort and for actually trying to do something different with the formula.
The script is also a cut above average in terms of its characters, most of whom are eccentric and played against type, making for an boisterous and at times unpredictable mix. Although Kim Joo Hyuk and Lee Yoon Ji are both fine and likeable as the main couple, it’s really Lee Si Young who steals the show, her scheming yet oddly innocent gold digger getting most of the best lines and emerging as endearing and amusing. The cast are all on decent form and make the most of the material, and as a result the various relationships all work pretty well, with some believable chemistry between the stars – all the more so for Jeong never tugging too forcefully on the heartstrings. It’s also nice to note that the film adds a few touches of realism to its romance, never being afraid to face up to the more bitter and hurtful side of love, and this similarly helps to make it more involving than most of its recent peers.
Although still very much a romantic comedy at heart, “Couples” is an enjoyable and somewhat original film which should have appeal beyond the usual confines of the genre. Boosted by an intelligent script with plenty of twists and turns, and a suitably appealing and engaging cast of couples, Jeong Yong Ki proves that with a little thought and effort, it’s perfectly possible to do something lively with the form.
Yong-ki Jeong (director) / Yong-ki Jeong (screenplay)
CAST: Ju-hyuk Kim … Yoo-Suk
Yun-ji Lee … Ae-Yeon
Si-young Lee … Na-Ri
Jeong-se Oh … Bok-Nam
Hyeong-jin Kong … Byung-Chan