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“Penny Pinchers” is a Korean romantic comedy with an economic theme, following a couple of likeable outsiders trying to get by and make money in a variety of wacky ways. Written and helmed by newcomer Kim Jung Hwan, the film has an appealing lead pairing in popular stars actor Song Joong Ki (“Sungkyunkwan Scandal”) and actress Han Ye Seul, here taking on a role far removed from her turn in “Miss Gold Digger”, with support from Shin So Yul (“Deserted House”) and Lee Sang Yeob (“Lovers of Six Years”).
Song Joong Ki plays Ji Woong, a broke, unemployed loser who uses the money his mother sends him for trying to impress girls rather than actually looking for a job. Things catch up with him when a boar related accident back at home results in him being cut off, and his landlady throws him out of his rooftop appointment when he can’t pay the rent. Living across from him is Hong Sil (Han Ye Seul), an odd young woman who spends her time trying to make money every way she can. When the tenants of their building are given a relocation fee for moving, she manages to get her hands on the money from his old apartment too, and decides to use him to set up a bank account in her name to unknowingly help her in another scheme. In return she takes him with her on her daily rounds, schooling him in her many methods of making money outside of the system.
Although still essentially a commercial piece of fluff, “Penny Pinchers” is a surprisingly earnest film with a worthy message, giving it quite a different feel to most other Korean romantic comedies of late, many of which have been markedly style obsessed and materialistic pieces of wish fulfilment. The economic theme works well, and by revolving around a couple of average people mainly just trying to survive, Kim Jung Hwan succeeds in creating a scenario which the average viewer is far more likely to be able to relate to and understand. This is furthered by the script, which goes out of its way to be critical of modern morality and Korean society, seen most pointedly through Shin So Yul’s calculating and dishonest young woman, who essentially promises Ji Woong sex for a pair of designer shoes. Thankfully, Kim works this into the plot with reasonable subtlety, and the film never comes across as being too preachy or judgemental.
This is just as well, as the film, and both Ji Woong and Hong Sil in particular are of course money obsessed in a different way, albeit without such unscrupulous or mercenary goals. Certainly, a very large amount of the running time is taken up with him being introduced to her many rackets, played out through several bouncy montage sequences. Most of these are actually pretty clever and believable, with Kim never letting things get too absurd, and this again allows the film and its protagonists to remain grounded and sympathetic. This is true of the film as a whole, and though frequently very funny, for the most part its humour is low key rather than the usual slapstick or over the top silliness.
The romance also works well, partly thanks to Ji Woong and Hong Sil being amiable, easy to root for characters, with both Song Joong Ki and Han Ye Seul on charismatic form. Wisely, Kim allows the relationship between the two to grow gradually, initially being only a background concern, with him trying to date someone else, and her taking advice from him on how to catch the eye of her investment advisor. Being just as concerned with its financial plotting and Hong Sil’s complex family problems, the film benefits from this laid back approach, and when the two do inevitably start falling for each other the results are convincing and surprisingly touching, far more so than in other recent Korean genre outings.
“Penny Pinchers” is definitely one of the best Korean romantic comedies of the last year or so, and one of the few to make a real effort with its characters and themes. Charming and well meaning, it’s a big hearted and winning affair that should be enjoyed both by fans and those who normally steer clear from this sort of fare.
Kim Jeong-Hwan (director) / Kim Jeong-Hwan (screenplay)
CAST: Ye-seul Han … Hong-Sil
Joong-ki Song … Ji-Woong
Sang-Yeob Lee … Gwan-Woo
So-Yul Shin … Gyung-Joo