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Jang Jin, director of wonderfully offbeat films like “Guns and Talks”, “Murder, Take One”, and more recently “The Quiz Show Scandal”, returns with another equally hard to pigeonhole offering in “Romantic Heaven”. Although its premise may sound suspiciously sentimental, dealing with a variety of characters and their relationships in both life and the afterlife, the film is very much in line with Jang’s previous works, being deliciously oddball and imaginative. As ever, the director assembled a top notch cast, including Kim Su Ro (“Death Bell 2”), Kim Dong Wook (“Take Off”), Shim Eun Kyung (“Hansel and Gretel”), Lim Won Hee (“Officer of the Year”) and others.
The film basically plays out as three stories about people facing up to the deaths of loved ones, with Mimi (Kim Ji Won) trying to track down a bone marrow donor for her dying mother, and becoming involved in a murder investigation by accident, while a recently bereaved lawyer called Min Gyu (Kim Su Ro) tries to get over the death of his wife, and taxi driver Ji Wook (Kim Dong Wook) attempts to look after his Alzheimers suffering grandfather, while tracing his long lost first love. Slowly but surely, the characters cross paths as their stories come together, as part of a bigger picture which reveals truths about their lives and the fragility of the human condition in general.
It’s kind of a shame that “Romantic Heaven” has such a sappy title and DVD artwork, as there’s far more to the film than generic romance and melodrama. Like all of Jang Jin’s films, it defies easy categorisation and benefits from a complex, well written script that works on a number of different levels and combines elements of several different genres, including love story, comedy, drama, ghost and even police thriller. Its various stories are expertly intertwined, and none play out quite as expected, with many of Jang’s trademark leftfield twists and turns along the way to keep things fun. As usual, he peppers the film with a stream of strange and seemingly random little moments that help to give it a unique and playful feel, his direction fun, polished and well paced throughout.
This having been said, Jang doesn’t neglect the emotional aspects of the premise, and the film is essentially an offbeat drama about love and loss, rather than actual romance. The film does a very good job of honestly depicting a variety of different loves and different scenarios, whilst at the same time dealing with more harsh truths of grief and healing. The film is quietly moving in places, avoiding the usual clichés of the genre, and although it does get a little much during the final act when it brings together its narrative threads, it’s still a winning mixture of the bitter and the sweet, even if its soundtrack does tend to soar and swell somewhat alarmingly. The characters themselves are well written and their bonds are mostly believable as a result, with Jang bringing them together in a way which though often reliant on coincidence is still engaging. This sense of fate sits well with some of the script’s big schemes, and in this respect it’s actually quite a brave film, going so far as to show heaven, complete with angels and God himself (played by veteran actor Lee Soon Jae), all depicted with fun and light-hearted touches.
These and other ideas help “Romantic Heaven” to succeed as a somewhat eccentric, though consistently engaging and very human take on the mysteries of life, death and love. Jang Jin again proves himself one of the most talented and interesting Korean directors, and one who will always be worth watching, no matter which genre(s) he chooses to play in.
Jin Jang (director) / Jin Jang (screenplay)
CAST: Su-ro Kim … Min-Kyu
Dong-wook Kim … Ji-Wook
Kim Ji-Won … Mimi
Eun-kyung Shim … Boon-I
Mu-Yeol Kim … Dong Chi-Sung
Won-hie Lim … Detective Kim