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As can probably be guessed from the title, Korean romantic comedy “Cyrano Agency” takes its cue from the classic 19th-century French play “Cyrano de Bergerac”. However, rather than adapting the play for the screen as has been done in the past, most famously in 1990 with Gérard Depardieu in the title role, director Kim Hyun Suk (“Scout”) cleverly uses its premise for something a little more modern. The film features Uhm Tae Woong (“Chaw”) and Daniel Choi (“High Kick 2”) as the male leads, with Lee Min Jung (“Boys Over Flowers”) as the object of their affections, with support from Park Shin Hye (“The Evil Twin”), Park Cheol Min (“4th Period Mystery”) and Jun Ah Min. As well as enjoying critical success, with Lee picking up several Best New Actress prizes and the film winning Best Screenplay at the 31st Blue Dragon Awards, “Cyrano Agency” also proved extremely popular with domestic audiences, clinching the top spot at the Korean box office for an impressive three weeks in a row.
Uhm Tae Woong plays the Cyrano role as Byung Hoon, who along with his team of actors runs an agency that offers the unique service of getting people to fall in love with their clients, using a series of clever tricks and romantic techniques. Things get complicated when they take on their latest job, the shy fund manager Sang Yong (Daniel Choi), who just happens to have his sights set on the heart of Byung Hoon’s ex, the beautiful Hee Joong (Lee Min Jung). Although Byung Hoon tries to put his feelings aside, he finds his love for Hee Joong as strong as ever, and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to woo her for the earnest though quite possibly unsuitable Sang Yong.
“Cyrano Agency” actually provides a decent spin on the source material, staying faithful to its themes whilst bringing it up to date and adding a few effective twists. This works very well, and the film’s success is to a large extent down to the fact the story is a good one, with far more emotional resonance than the average romantic comedy. Director Kim mixes romance, drama and comedy to winning effect with a skilled balancing act that never lets things get too melodramatic or soppy, spending a fair amount of time fleshing out the characters and their various relationships. Perhaps inevitably, it focuses mainly on Byung Hoon and Hee Joong, tracing their past love and breakup through a series of flashbacks, though at the same time Sang Yong is a substantial player in his own right, and this does give the film a certain dramatic tension as to who will end up with who. The film benefits from a strong script which shows a few surprising touches of maturity along the way that help to ground things and allow the film to make some telling and insightful observations on the problems between men and women.
The three leads are all on good form, in particular Lee Min Jung, whose layered turn ensures that Hee Joong never becomes mere eye candy or a simple damsel waiting to be wooed. The fact that she is a spirited and complicated young woman gives the film a very welcome shot of substance, and means that it never patronises or panders too much to rom com clichés. She and Uhm Tae Woong have a genuine chemistry, which makes the ups and downs of their past and present relationship affecting and interesting. Sang Yong starts off as being a less palatable character, with Daniel Choi over doing the socially awkward act, though thankfully the script grants him a decent character arc which makes him more sympathetic as things go on, something which further muddies the water as to the final result.
Although the film is a little self indulgent and does go on a little longer than necessary, Kim’s direction shows a pleasantly light touch that fits the material well. The film has a nicely understated vein of humour, with just a few moments of slapstick inserted here and there to grab a handful of lowbrow laughs. For the most part the comedy is of the classical French farce variety, with plenty of misunderstandings and mistaken identities, though thankfully Kim doesn’t let things get too ridiculous. It’s also nice to see a film of this type which doesn’t feel the need to play the supporting cast solely for comic relief, and though Park Shin Hye, Park Cheol Min and Jun Ah Min don’t have a huge amount to do, they at least get a couple of half hearted subplots and don’t have to suffer too many indignities.
Although ultimately “Cyrano Agency” doesn’t quite manage to break the shackles or defy the conventions of the romantic comedy genre, there’s no denying that it’s a definite crowd plesaser and one of the best Korean examples of the form of the last year or so. With a well-written script and likeable cast, it has a certain maturity and emotional honesty which makes its more saccharine moments perfectly palatable, and it shows that such films really don’t need to talk down to their audience to be effective.
Kim Hyeon-seok (director) / Kim Hyeon-seok (screenplay)
CAST: Tae-woong Eom … Byeong-hoon
Min-jung Lee … Hee-joong
Daniel Choi … Sang-yong
Sin-hye Park … Min-yeong
Jeon Ah-min … Jae-pil
Cheol-min Park … Cheol-bin