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Actress Ji-won Ha played the straight man in the gross-out comedy “Sex is Zero” and an adult in the horror film “Phone”. And apparently she’s tired of playing it straight, which may explain why the actress has elected to play her character in “Love Slave” (aka “100 Days with Mr. Arrogant”) as if she will never be allowed to play another comedy role again. Ever. In just the film’s first 20 minutes, Ha goes through an average of 50 “funny faces” per second. It’s quite amazing — albeit not in the “oh wow that’s really funny” type of amazing, but rather the “oh my God why does she keep mugging for the camera” amazing. Which, if you were wondering, is not really amazing at all.
Yet another movie based on an Internet story, “Slave Love” is a rehash of the recent spate of South Korean comedies that have attempted to cash in on the pedigree/formula established by the international breakthrough hit “My Sassy Girl”. In that case, originality meant something, which isn’t the case with “Slave Love” and other imitators. As with “My Tutor Friend” and “Sassy”, there is a conflicting relationship between two people from opposing socioeconomic background, and as usual the one with the money is the more deprived of the two, and it’s up to the poor one to make both of their respective lives meaningful. Or some such.
Like those other movies, one part of the romantic duo has what can be charitably described as an infantile personality. In this case, it’s Ji-won Ha, playing high school senior Ha-yeong, although from her portrayal you would think she’s actually in kindergarten, or perhaps pre-k. And if one half of the relationship is infantile, the other half is cool, and in this case it’s Jae-Won Kim as Hyeong-jun. Our story begins when the male half is assaulted by an errant can one day while driving down the street. Responsible is Ha-yeong, whose kicking of said can costs Hyeong-jun to run his car into a wall. Determined to get Ha-yeong to pay for the damages, Hyeong-jun strikes a bargain with Ha-yeong for her to be his slave for 100 days in order to pay off the damages.
The two are diametrically opposed and as a result butts heads constantly; that is, until they find something to admire in each other and — Well, you know all this, right? If not, then you’ve been living under a hut. They hate each other at first, they end up falling in love, they split up near the end, only to come back together in the end. It’s A-B-C Romantic Comedy writing down to its barest essentials, and rather the product be Korean or Hollywood, it’s still barebones formulaic junk.
If you can stand the movie’s leading lady mugging for the camera like she will never be allowed to play a comedy role ever again, then there are some nice comedy moments to be had. For those who enjoyed the “American Pie”-esque gross-out comedy moments of “Sex is Zero”, first-time writer/director Dong-yeob Shin seems to be going for the same kind of juvenile hi-jinks here. The film opens with a series of lowbrow gags involving boogers and someone going to the bathroom. The first half is all Ha-yeong doing her best impression of a semi-retarded girl, but the second half switches gears completely in an attempt to emphasis the romance, which means no more “funny faces” by the lead.
Since the chances of being surprised by how the movie will turn out is somewhere between zero to absolutely no way in Hell, one would hope the film can provide enough laughs until the inevitable formulaic ending. Unfortunately even the bathroom humor is derivative, as if the script couldn’t even muster up some minor original ways to gross us out, and instead had to steal even its cheap lowbrow gags from other movies. The rest of the film offers up one lame sexual innuendo after another. It’s all very gratuitous and uninspired unless you’re 10 years old and has just learned that the stork doesn’t really bring babies to expectant mothers.
If you can stomach lead Ji-won Ha constantly mugging for the camera in the film’s first half (and I do mean constantly, as in every single frame), then you’re a more patient man than I. As someone who finds nonsensical mugging to be more than a slight irritant, having the main character do nothing but mug is akin to doomsday. Apparently someone has convinced Ji-won Ha that the only way to be funny is to contort her face every which way and act mentally deficient. (Hmm, I smell a trend in South Korean comedies…) For God’s sake, even Jim Carrey, in his most annoying “rubber face” heyday, never reached this plateau of complete odiousness.
In a lot of ways, “Slave Love” is almost a carbon copy of “My Tutor Friend”. Later in the film, one of the characters even becomes a tutor for the other. It’s also at this point that Ha-yeong ceases to act like a spastic, but that’s only because the film has officially shifted into its semi-serious side, which if you’re familiar with Asian Cinema you knew was inevitable. And if you also know your Korean Cinema, you will know that there is no room for goofy faces in a serious movie, even if it just happens to be the serious half of a goofy lowbrow comedy.
Dong-yeob Shin (director) / Dong-yeob Shin (screenplay)
CAST: Jae-Won Kim …. Lee Hyeong-jun
Ji-won Ha …. Kang Ha-yeong
Tae-hyeon Kim …. Yeong-eun