It’s really not hard to see the rationale for making “Romantic Island”, with the premise offering gorgeous, sun-drenched tropical scenery, an eye-candy cast, and plenty of laughter and love – the perfect escapist remedy for the winter blues or financial woes. Certainly, director Kang Chul Woo, here marking his debut after serving as an assistant on light-hearted fare such as My Boss, My Teacher and My Boyfriend is Type B, makes the very most of the setup, and delivers exactly according to plan, making the film a truly amiable viewing experience, despite hitting the odd off-key note.
The film follows focuses on 4 young people who are all heading for the island of Boracay in the Philippines for one reason or another – Soo Jin, a ditzy office worker looking for escape (Lee Soo Kyung, “Rainbow Eyes”), convenience store worker and backpacking slacker Jung Hwan (Lee Min Ki, “A Day for an Affair”), rich company executive Jae Hyuk, coming to pay his respects to his estranged dead father (Lee Seon Gyun, “Our Town”), and pop singer Ga Young (Eugene, “Unstoppable Marriage”), who is on the run from her controlling management. Soon enough they have paired off into mismatched couples, with Jae Hyuk hiring Soo Jin to be his guide and Jung Hwan taking care of spoiled princess Ga Young. Needless to say, romance is soon blossoming for all concerned, although there are a number of obstacles to overcome first. At the same time, somewhat less cheerful events are unfolding as a terminally ill man (played by Lee Moon Sik “Public Enemy”) plots to kill himself while on holiday with his unsuspecting wife (Lee Il Hwa, “Iljimae”) in order to claim an insurance payment.
Aside from the last sentence of the above synopsis, it should be pretty clear that “Romantic Island” is pure, unadulterated wish-fulfilment fluff. This it certainly is, though in the best possible sense, with director Kang managing to keep things light, breezy and above all, fun, distracting from the overall sense of inevitability and the long string of contrivances which make up the plot. Of course, a film such as this without comic misunderstandings, melodramatic twists and sentimental outpourings would be rather dull and pointless, and here such clichés are handled with a deft enough touch to make for pleasant and comfortable rather than over-familiar viewing. To an extent this is due to the fact that the four central characters are a very likeable bunch, and though none of their problems or worries is even remotely life-threatening, it’s hard not to get caught up in their petty concerns and trivialities. Indeed, Kang seems only too aware of the fact that their motivations and tales are slight, and wisely makes sure that the film remains gently amusing throughout, never taking itself seriously. As a result, its various romances all work very well, and the film is actually quite moving towards the end, albeit not in particularly challenging fashion.
Against this background of tender love and low-key comedy japery, the subplot regarding the terminally ill man seems even more bizarre. Although his plight is genuine and his motivation for wanting the insurance money to leave for his family is sympathetically handled, Kang oddly enough plays his various failed suicide attempts for slapstick humour – for example with a drowning that flounders when the water proves to be too shallow, and a bathtub electrocution thwarted by a wire being too short. After he eventually hires an assassin to kill him on the island, who just happens to be an angel wings-wearing little boy, things get even more oddball, as the kid receives not only his picture, but those of the male leads, leading to a truly wacky final act in which one of them looks set to be murdered on the beach as the clock counts down for New Year. To be fair, all of this is actually quite amusing, in suitably bleak fashion, and does come together with a predictably fuzzy message towards the end. However, many of the resulting laughs may well be uncomfortable for viewers expecting something a little more conventionally warm-hearted.
The film’s ace is quite obviously the lovely scenery, with beautiful sunsets, sandy beaches and plenty of local colour giving it the feel of a glossy holiday video. Indeed, the cast seem to spend a fair amount of the running time partaking in such challenging activities as scuba diving, frolicking in the surf and taking romantic walks to visit picturesque tourist spots. As a bonus, and not a small one, the cast all look good in swimwear, especially the gorgeous Eugene. Kang makes it all seem as appealing as possible, which only adds to the overall atmosphere of fun.
As a result, although undeniably slight, “Romantic Island” is a charming film with an infectious smile that works perfectly as a piece of fantasy entertainment. Hugely enjoyable and as light as a feather, it should be enjoyed not only by fans of romantic comedies, but even by those cynical souls who usually wouldn’t go near such frothy fare.
Kang Cheol-woo (director) / Lee Jeong-sub (screenplay)
CAST: Lee Seon-gyoon, Lee Soo-kyeong, Lee Min-ki, Yoo Jin, Lee Moon-sik, Lee Il-hwa