f you've seen your share of South Korean comedies in the last few years, you
might be wondering if the industry has stopped making adult comedies altogether.
With the likes of "Sex
is Zero" and "Slave
Love" seemingly dominating the marketplace, one might get the
impression that the Korean movie industry no longer cares about making Romantic
Comedies for adults. Thankfully Seok-beom Kang's "Mr. Handy" (aka
"Mr. Hong") is here to set the record straight. Yes, Virginia, South
Korea still produces RomComs for adults; and Yes, they really are better than
the likes of "Slave" and "Zero" by a long shot.
"Mr. Handy" stars Jeong-hwa Eom ("Crazy
Marriage") as Hye-jin, a fiercely independent 30-year old dentist whose
life changes when she hands in her resignation paper and, much to her surprise,
it's accepted. Now out of a job, Hye-jin finds that starting her own practice in
a big city like Seoul is out of the question, as well as beyond her bank
account. After a night of aimless driving, Hye-jin ends up in a small rural town
that promises a new start -- but more importantly, the rent space is cheap.
As she tries to acclimate to small-town life, Hye-jin comes
into repeated contact with Du-shik, aka Mr. Hong (Ju-seok Kim). As the town's
unofficial "representative", Hong's duty includes every job that needs
doing. In return, he receives a small pay, but as Hong tells another character,
accepting money from the townspeople helps them to easier accept his help. It's
this symbiotic relationship between Hong and the town that Hye-jin just can't
understand, especially since Hong is always in her face, prodding her to become
a better citizen and person.
Since "Mr. Handy" is a Romantic Comedy, Hong and Hye-jin falling in
love is as inevitable as death and taxes. But thankfully co-writer/director
Seok-beom Kang has seen plenty of RomComs himself, and apparently dislikes their
predictability almost as much as this reviewer. As a result, not very much of
"Mr. Handy", besides the inevitable "falling in love" part,
is predictable. After Hong and Hye-jin spends a (sexless) night together,
Hye-jin begins to develop feelings for the man-with-no-prospects, who shockingly
don't seem especially interested in courting a dentist.
It's that kind of unpredictability that makes "Mr.
Handy" a pleasure to watch. It's an entertaining movie from beginning to
end, with a cast of likeable characters. Even Hye-jin's friend Mi-sun (Ka-Yeong
Kim), essentially the film's Designated Comic Relief, doesn't wear out her
welcome. Later on, the film takes some liberties, giving anyone familiar with
Korean films and Korea a helping of inside gags. "Shiri"
makes a cameo, as well as a certain midget dictator of a certain northern
country. Even George Bush Sr. shows up briefly. All of this, while obviously
outrageous, is nevertheless hilarious.
While the film explores every facet of Hye-jin's
personality, Hong remains a mystery throughout much of the film. One of the
film's conceit is that Hong can do just about anything, from something as simple
as filling in as a cashier, to something as artistic as playing guitar and
singing, and even something as skilled as fixing electronics. When gangsters
threaten Hye-jin's burgeoning practice, Hong shows his physical prowess and
wipes the streets with them. How did he become so proficient at these things?
The movie never explains, and that's part of its charm.
But if the film shortchanges us on its renaissance man, it more than makes up in
laughs. "Mr. Handy" is a very funny film, with much of the comedy
coming in the form of excellent performances by the two leads and
out-of-the-blue situations such as Hye-jin getting groped in a grocery store, or
getting back ended by a bad driver. The Hye-jin character is very well realized.
She's a woman who bucks the system at every corner, but is still vulnerable to
her unwed status at age 30. Most of the time her personality gets her into
trouble because she refuses to accept the status quo.
"Mr. Handy" is funny, affable, and visually
impressive. The cinematography by Jun-yeong Jang ("Afrika")
is breathtaking, especially when the camera lingers on the ocean or at a
delicate sunset. The beautiful Jeong-hwa Eom is a revelation, lighting up the
screen with natural charisma and great comedic timing. Thankfully the film
realizes it has a major talent on its hands, because the camera captures every
smile and expressive look by Eom. Newcomer Ju-seok Kim, as Hye-jin's persistent
foil, succeeds in the role without ever resorting to silliness.
For anyone tired of the crop of raunchy teen comedies that
have sprung out of Korea like a bad rash, "Mr. Handy" is a perfect
change of pace. You won't find a better, funnier, and more romantic comedy
coming out of Korea at the moment.