Although Korean cinema is better known for its melodramas and gangster films, the country does produce a fair number of comedies, most of which tend to be very wacky affairs. Despite its odd title, which seems to suggest some kind of thoughtful emotional drama, “How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men”, the first outing for director Kim Sung Hoon is a prime case in point, being a crazed mixture of slapstick and sexual harassment which makes the most of its two lead stars’ considerable talent for physical humour.
The film follows the titular two men, namely widower Cheol Dong (veteran actor Baek Yoon Shik, also in “Like a Virgin” and “The Art of Fighting”), who makes his living conning money out of companies, and his gangly son Dong Hyun (Bong Tae Gyu, recently in “Family Ties”). Their lives are thrown into disarray when Cheol rents the flat below to Mimi, a recently divorced woman who plans to open a caf’, and who has a penchant for wearing rather revealing clothes. The stage is thus set for a battle between the two men for Mimi’s affections, though they also face an obstacle in the form of her ex-husband, not to mention the fact that she may quite understandably not want either of them.
Despite the subject matter, and the fact that the idea of father and son competing for the sexual favours of the same woman is inherently creepy, the film is strangely innocent, and although there are breast and cleavage jokes a-plenty there is nothing offensive or particularly sleazy on show. Whilst for the most part the humour is of the expected saucy slapstick variety, it does drift into some fairly bitter territory, with the two men turning quite nasty when they don’t get their way, either with Mimi or each other.
It is arguably these scenes which are the funniest, with some decidedly twisted and mean-spirited gags being thrown in. For example, when Cheol takes the rather extreme measure of tying his son up in a sack to prevent him from cramping his style; although this may sound innocent enough, he actually keeps the poor lad in there for several days, starving him and refusing to let him use the bathroom, leading to an amusing “Oldboy” reference. The film as a whole is filled with similar cinematic jokes, some of which work quite well, and others, such as a bizarre play on “The Matrix” are likely to leave viewers scratching their heads. This all makes for a pretty wacky mix, though one which works very well, providing a good balance of different types of jokes, and the film is generally very funny.
“How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men” also benefits from strong comedic performances from both Baek and Bong, and despite the fact that both play characters who are basically sex-starved perverts who will stop at nothing to try and outwit the other, the film might more accurately have been titled, “How the Lack of Sex Affects Two Men”. The plot is surprisingly involving, if only to see which of the two end up with poor oblivious Mimi. To be fair, it’s worth noting that she is not much of a catch herself, spending a good amount of the film in a drunken stupor, not to mention being far too old for Hyun, however desperate he might be.
Although at nearly two hours, the film is perhaps a little too long. Kim does manage to keep things bright and breezy through a variety of odd inserts and strange visual techniques, with a number of weird animated sequences being thrown in for good measure, many of which seem wholly unrelated to the plot. This adds an at times surreal air to the proceedings and further underlines the film’s general sense of maniacal energy, ensuring that things never get dull.
By revolving around such a wretched set of characters, the film does have a pleasingly offbeat and amoral feel, which director Kim maintains throughout, never sliding into any unnecessary sentiment or last minute melodrama as might have been expected. As a result, “How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men” makes for highly entertaining viewing, and is a must for fans of Korean comedy. Energetic and imaginative, it offers a fast paced barrage of laughs which, although for the most part in dubious taste, relies more upon the excellent comedic performances of the cast rather than the cheap shock gags so common in the genre.
Kim Seong-hoon (director) / Kim Seong-hoon, Cha Dae-seob, Choi In-beom, Lee Hwang-rim, Sin Hyeon-jin (screenplay)
CAST: Baek Yoon-sik