Although the Korean romantic comedy genre must surely be running out of wacky premises by now, director Kim Jin Young (“My Baby and I”) comes out with a twist of sorts with “Fortune Salon”. As the title suggests, the film revolves around fortune telling and destiny, with a winning pair of leads in the form of “Sex is Zero” favourite and veteran comic star Lim Chang Jung, and actress Park Ye Jin (“Life is Cool”). Backing the stars are an appealing supporting cast which includes Seo Young Hee (recently in “The Chaser”), Seo Yoo Jeong (“Someone behind You”), and Lee Joon Hyuk (“Three Brothers”).
The plot follows Park Ye Jin as Tae Rang, a glamorous fortune teller who works in the titular salon in the upmarket Cheongdam district of Seoul. Although she is an expert in offering love advice to her many clients, the poor girl has a big problem herself when it comes to finding a man, with her mother having effectively cursed her by telling her that she is destined to be with a man born on May 16, 1978 at 11 p.m. Since prior experience has taught her that all other men tend to fall foul of accidents in her presence, she takes this prediction very seriously. Her resolve is severely tested when she meets Seung Won (Lim Chang Jung), a man born on that date and at that specific time – though who just happens to be everything she is most definitely not looking for in a partner.
“Fortune Salon” does indeed offer something a little different to the usual “Sassy Girl” clone Korean romantic comedies, not so much due to its premise, but rather thanks to the amusing and engaging dynamic between the two leads. Lim Chang Jung always makes for a good comedic hangdog wretch, though here he plays somewhat more of a lout, who genuinely does not seem to like Park Ye Jin’s fortune teller, despite her being gorgeous, rich, and weirdly desperate to date him. During the early stages of the film, their courtship consists mainly of bickering and his trying to get whatever he can for her, and this makes for an entertaining mismatched couples vibe. Both stars are on game, charismatic form, and there is a real chemistry between the two as they play off each other. Of course, during the last third of the film his behaviour suddenly improves as things take a dive into more romantic territory, and though this never works quite as well as the comedy, since the characters are likeable it is at least never offensive or too melodramatic. The twin themes of destiny and opposites attracting are laid on quite thickly by director Kim, and certainly the final act could have done with a touch of trimming, though it still remains comfortable and pleasant enough viewing.
The film does enjoy this kind of breezy feel throughout, with most of the jokes being bawdy without ever becoming too crude. The script itself is reasonably witty, if not particularly creative, and it does have a few real laugh out loud moments, mainly thanks to Lim. The fortune telling gimmick is quite well handled, being taken surprisingly respectfully, whilst at the same time allowing for a good number of anecdotal gags, with random scenes featuring oddball customers being interspersed throughout, generally to good effect. Unsurprisingly, the plot mostly develops via daft misunderstandings, and this fits well with the inherently daft premise, and it helps that Kim has the sense never to take things too seriously. Although basically the usual suspects, the supporting cast are all likeable enough, and their various relationships and nonsense are engaging as background concerns.
Kim’s direction is appropriately colourful, and he keeps things moving along at a good pace, final act excess not withstanding. He does drop the ball a couple of times, falling into some of the less welcome clichés of the romantic comedy form, in particular with a few montages, and an obligatory nightclub scene, thrown in for no reason other than to inject a little hip music and dancing. This really isn’t much of a crime, though it certainly doesn’t do anything more than padding out the running time.
Overall though, “Fortune Salon”, whilst pretty inconsequential and probably quite forgettable, is a lot of fun while it lasts, and should certainly be enjoyed by romantic comedy fans, even those rather fed up with the genre’s increasing lack of originality. Lim Chang Jung and Park Ye Jin manage to achieve the all important chemistry and sense of fun necessary for this kind of film to really click, and as a result viewer get pulled into having an enjoyably silly time along with them.
Kim Jin-yeong (director) / Kim Soo-mi-I (screenplay)
CAST: Park Ye-jin, Im Chang-jeong, Kim Hee-won, Seo Yeong-hee, Seo Yoo-jeong, Lee Joon-hyeok