Although the idea of yet another Korean romantic comedy might not exactly set the pulse racing, “Love Fiction” does have something a little different to offer, attempting to follow realistically the many ups and downs of modern relationships, told chiefly from the point of view of the man. The latest offering from writer director Jeon Gye Soo, (“Lost and Found”, “Midnight Ballad for Ghost Theater”), the film features Ha Jung Woo (“The Yellow Sea”) as its male lead, with actress Kong Hyo Jin (“Crush and Blush”) as the object of his affection. Korean audiences were certainly taken with its blend of humour, romance and incisive commentary on the male psyche, and the film scored big at the box office, with over 1 million admissions in its first week.
Ha Jung Woo plays Jool Wol, a 31 year old struggling writer and part time bartender, who blames his lack of success on his inability to find true love. Things seem to be looking up when he meets film distributor Hee Jin (Kong Hyo Jin) while on a business trip to Berlin, and somehow manages to woo her into dating with his odd sense of humour. Although it feels very much like love at first sight and his writing starts to take off, Jool Wol starts finding out some surprising and less than positive facts about his new squeeze, and their blossoming relationship soon hits a rocky patch.
“Love Fiction” has been described as being a sort of male version of “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, and as unpalatable as this sounds, the comparison is pretty apt, as the film plays out almost entirely from Joon Wol’s perspective, and is tied together by his voice over narration and flights of fantasy. This works very well, and the film as a result should speak to a far wider audience than the usual romantic comedy crowd – perhaps tellingly, Jeon Gye Soo apparently wrote the script back in 2007 but couldn’t get producers interested until 2011 due to its differences with most cutesy or “Sassy Girl” style genre efforts. An examination of the male psyche and loneliness as much as a rom com, the film still does deliver in terms of amour and relationship intrigue, and all the more moving and affecting for its general avoidance of soppy melodrama. The film really is also pretty funny, in an offbeat (though thankfully not forcedly quirky) manner, blending in plenty of comedy along the way and helping to keep the fun factor high throughout – even if the script shows a very odd fascination with the concept of Hee Jin having armpit hair.
Given its near-complete reliance on its male protagonist, it’s fortunate that Ha Jung Woo is excellent as Jool Wol, making him likeable despite his many (many) flaws and personality defects. The film is pleasingly honest and balanced in its depiction of him, gradually stripping away and revealing the insecurity behind his idealised views on love and his own image, and being clear in pointing the finger of blame at him for many of the problems which arise in his relationship with Hee Jin. Kong Hyo Jin is also great, and does a fine job as Hee Jin, making her similarly realistic and more grounded than the average romantic heroine. Their pairing has genuine chemistry, and this again ensures that the film is both entertaining and believable.
The film’s only real issue is that at just over 2 hours, it really does go on a little long, and though it’s never dull, it tends to meander somewhat during its middle act. More specifically, it could definitely have done without some of Jool Wol’s novel related fantasy sequences involving his detective alter ego, as while mildly amusing they don’t add anything to the plot or understanding of his character. Also unnecessary are the frequent appearances of veteran Lee Byung Joon as an imaginary figure he talks to and gets relationship advice from – again, though not particularly offensive, this does detract from the film’s otherwise down to earth feel.
Still, these aren’t enough to derail things, and “Love Fiction” is very much a superior and more substantial example of the modern Korean romantic comedy. Jeon Gye Soo writes and directs with imagination and skill, and the film benefits from a charismatic central couple in Ha Jung Woo and Kong Hyo Jin, helping to make the film one of the few to stand a real chance of appealing to non-genre fans and well-deserving of its box office success.
Kye Soo Jeon (director) / Kye Soo Jeon (screenplay)
CAST: Jung-woo Ha … Goo Joo-wol
Hyo-jin Kong … Hee-jin
Byung-joon Lee … Multi Man
Hie-bong Jo … Director Kwak
Jin-hee Ji … Joo-ro