Given its title and the presence of top Korean goofball Lim Chang Jung, it should come as no surprise to learn that “Romantic Debtors” is a romantic comedy. Directed by Shin Keun Ho, the film also features popular actress Uhm Ji Won (with who he co-starred in “Scout”) as his love interest, in a rather unlikely tale about a bad tempered detective falling for a hard nosed debt collector – surely a sign that genre scriptwriters are having to look pretty far afield to come up with new ideas for wacky mismatched couples.
Lim Chang Jung (“Sex is Zero”) plays Bang, a homicide cop who has unfortunately landed himself up to his neck in debt after being let down by a friend. Chasing him up with irate calls every half hour demanding that he catches up on his payments is the hot-headed and frequently foul-mouthed Mu Ryeong (Uhm Ji Won, who also recently appeared in the bawdy comedy “Foxy Festival”), who spends her days yelling down the phone at customers. Love seems to be in the air after the two meet at the police station, though sparks of the wrong kind are soon flying once he realises that she is in fact the harridan who has been making his life a misery.
Although the premise of “Romantic Debtors” may sound like scraping the romantic comedy barrel, and though the idea of a love story revolving around debt collecting may not immediately set the heart soaring, the film actually works very well. Although never particularly believable, the plot is a lot of fun, and mainly focuses on delivering the goods rather than taking itself seriously or trying to add anything new to the form. Featuring pleasant renditions of all the staple rom-com ingredients, with Mu Ryeong being a sassy, aggressive girl who gets drunk and has to get carried to hotels, and Bang being a typically hapless male romantic lead, the film is lively and generally amusing, with lots of slapstick and amiable gags. Whilst obviously not a film to watch expecting unpredictable twists and turns, the plot bounces around in endearingly random fashion, and director Shin does throw in a fair amount of action to keep things moving, with Bang frequently getting roughed up in the line of duty.
The film is obviously a vehicle for its two stars, and both are on good form, with there being plenty of chemistry in their many scenes together. Both to a large extent roll out their usual onscreen personas and play to their strengths, with Lim going for his down trodden, undignified everyman act and Uhm spending most of the running time either batting her eyelashes or raising her voice. Their bickering is very funny, and the best parts of the film are during the earlier stages as they come out with a variety of inventive and harsh insults for each other. The script is sharper than average for this kind of film, with some clever one-liners and creatively daft situations, and this helps to make sure that the comedy quotient is met before the inevitable last act melodrama kicks in.
To be fair, in this respect the film also handles things a little better than some of its peers, with Shin attempting to make critical points about the role of debts and debt collectors in Korean society, with members of the supporting cast being hounded to extremes or tricked into hock by unscrupulous partners. At this stage, Mu Ryeong unsurprisingly quite suddenly becomes a more sympathetic character through some judicious use of back story, though this is weaved into the plot gracefully enough and it helps to make her obligatory softening towards Bang more palatable. The sappiness of the last half hour or so is also offset by the fact that it sees the plot going off on a pretty ridiculous tangent which really has little to do with the rest of the film, and this in its own way is not without entertainment value.
“Romantic Debtors” does feel like a thrown together collection of gags and romance weaved around the presence of Lim Chang Jung and Uhm Ji Won, though this isn’t really too much of a criticism. Whilst it doesn’t particularly stand out from the crowd, the film passes the time pleasantly enough, with a light hearted mix of action, comedy and romance that makes it a pretty good bet for a date movie, and one that has something to offer both girls and guys.
Geun-ho Shin (director) / Geun-ho Shin, Jin-won Choi (screenplay)
CAST: Jae-seop Kang … Detective Kim
Jeong-seok Kim … Oh Byeong-seok
Jae-goo Lee … Detective Jang