Given the ever burgeoning population of Korean romantic comedies and dramas, any new genre entries have to offer either an all star cast or something a little different in order to stand out from the mob. Of course, given the fairly strict conventions and audience requirements of the form, the latter is somewhat harder to do. Nevertheless, this is exactly what first time writer director Lim Seong Woon has attempted with “Ride Away”, aiming to deliver all the passion and emotional intrigue that viewers expect, though without either patronising or straying too far into cliché.
The setup is certainly familiar enough, following a new college girl called Ha Jung (Han Hyo Ju, who recently starred in “Ad Lib Night” and “Iljimae”) who lives with her father, an unfortunate man who has turned to drink to forget the passing of his wife, and her troublesome younger brother. On the first day of school she meets bookshop worker Soo Wook (Lee Young Hoon, also in the drama “No Regret”), and despite some initial antagonism the two are soon taking long bike rides together and dreaming of the future. Sadly, there are several obstacles in the way of their emerging relationship, not least of which are Ha Jung’s worsening family problems and the inconvenient fact that Soo Wook already has a girlfriend lying comatose in the hospital.
Given the generic plot, there was never too much chance of “Ride Away” offering anything really different or innovative. However, director Lim does seem to be aware of this fact, and instead of actively trying to subvert the form, he works within in, mainly through fleshing out his characters far more than is usually the case, and by grounding events in the real world than in the fairytale land that most romantic comedies inhabit. As such, the film does take itself quite seriously, and deals with some fairly depressing problems, never shying away from the fact that Ha Jung’s family is genuinely a mess, with her father being about two steps shy of alcoholism and her brother quite obviously going through his own hard times. This helps the film to work as a convincing coming of age story, perhaps even more so than as a straight romance, with actress Han Hyo Ju turning in a solid performance in the lead role that effectively portrays the pain and confusion of making the jump from girl to woman.
The film’s central romance is similarly believable, despite a few moments of cringe worthy dialogue and the rather needless inclusion of the comatose girlfriend subplot, which seems to have been lifted from another production entirely, and which is thrown into the narrative whenever Lim needs to move things on. Thankfully, the sleeping beauty doesn’t detract too much from the interesting relationship which builds between Ha Jung and Soo Wook, through its awkward beginnings, honeymoon period and final resolution. As a result, the film certainly does deliver the emotional goods, though without too much melodrama or wallowing, and without pandering to the worst excesses of the form. Things do inevitably get quite teary towards the end – the film probably wouldn’t qualify as a romance otherwise – though again, these scenes are at least handled with a certain sensitivity and dignity.
Lim’s direction fits his aims nicely, being down to earth and free of anything too cute or flashy. The film is mercifully free of musical montages or scenes of characters staring mournfully out into the rain, and this helps to further its ambitions as a more realistic genre proposition. Also to its benefit are the short running time and relatively tight pacing, which leave little room for anything in the way of needless distractions or flashbacks. This low key approach means that the film does have a reasonably fresh and contemporary feel, and again this ensures that it does stand out somewhat from the crowd.
Whilst this is probably not quite enough to win “Ride Away” universal appeal, it does mark it as one of the better genre films from Korea in the last year or so. Basically a romantic character drama with independent sensibilities, Lim generally succeeds in his attempt to shake up the form a little, delivering a film which is far more believable and affecting than the vast majority of its peers.
Lim Seong-woon (director) / Lim Seong-woon (screenplay)
CAST: Han Hyo-joo, Lee Yeong-hoon, Kim Soo-wook, Kim Eung-soo, Song Kwang-won, Lee Eun, Kwon Geum-san, Lee Jeong-gook