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Odd couples have long been a staple of the romantic comedy genre around the world, and they don’t come much more potentially wacky than a useless gangster and an unemployed college grad with a considerable age gap between them. This is the pairing featured in debut writer director Kim Kwang Sik’s “My Dear Desperado”, with top Korean actor Park Joong Hoon (still probably best known for his awesome tough turn in “Nowhere to Hide”) and Jung Yoo Mi (recently in “Like You Know it All”) playing the couple in question who find themselves drawn together in unlikely circumstances.
The film begins with Se Jin (Jung Yoo Mi) leaving her small town for Seoul after getting a job at a prestigious IT company. Unfortunately for her, the firm soon goes bust, leaving her unemployed but too proud to head home and admit the truth to her domineering father. Moving to a small apartment in a cheaper area of the city, she meets her new neighbour, a rather unkempt older man called Dong Chul, who claims to be a gangster. Although the slovenly thug is rude and seems to do nothing but hang around looking mean, Se Jin slowly warms to him and the two develop a relationship of sorts despite their obvious differences.
With a film like “My Dear Desperado”, which is very much a character rather than plot driven affair, the performances from and chemistry between leads are all important, and on this score the film has a couple of very valuable assets in Park Joong Hoon and Jung Yoo Mi. Both are on great form, with Park scowling away to amusing effect while hiding his sensitive side, and Jung making for a very likeable girl next door figure rather than one of the ditzy but cute female figures that tend to populate such films. There is a genuine spark between the two, and Kim wisely makes the most of this, keeping the couple onscreen and together for most of the running time, with plenty of banter and tension between them.
Although neither Dong Chul nor Se Jin is written with a great deal of depth, Kim’s script is certainly amusing and witty enough, and never pushes things too hard in terms of either gags or melodrama. Predictably, Dong Chul’s gangster antics never amount to anything nasty, and though the film does include a few violent scenes, these are generally of him taking a beating after failing yet again to prove his toughness, and are very much in keeping with the all round uselessness of his character. The film as a whole is very grounded, spending a lot of time on recognisable everyday problems such as Se Jin’s struggle to find a job and the unpleasant attitudes she unfortunately comes across, and this makes it easy for the viewer to identify with her. Most of the humour when it comes is of a wry variety rather than slapstick, and whilst the film doesn’t have too many laugh out loud moments, it is gently amusing when it needs to be, often in a pleasingly straight faced manner.
As a result, perhaps surprisingly, the film really isn’t the kind of traditional romantic comedy that might been expected, and is all the more rewarding and engaging for it. What develops between the two isn’t so much a courtship as a hesitant kind of mutual support, with Se Jin re-discovering her confidence, and Dong Chul finding some kind of purpose in life. Even on these terms the film doesn’t play out according to plan, and though it does at times lack momentum or real drama, it is believable throughout, neatly balancing a naturalistic approach with audience friendly riffs.
“My Dear Desperado” is certainly a more mature film than its romantic comedy premise suggests and though light in places it works well as an urban relationship drama that quite neatly deals with the trials and tribulations not so much of love, but of modern life in general. Boosted by star turns from Park Joong Hoon and Jung Yoo Mi and by Kim’s intelligent script, the film offers something a little fresh, and should be enjoyed even by those viewers who wouldn’t bother with such mismatched couple shenanigans.
Kwang-shik Kim (director) / Kwang-shik Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Yu-mi Jeong … Sae-Jin Han
In-gi Jung … Detective Park
Joong-Hoon Park … Dong-Chul Oh
Won-sang Park … Jong-Seo