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Generally speaking, I am not a fan of your typical, run-of-the-mill romantic comedies, regardless of what country they hail from. Despite my deep fondness for the director or my undying respect for the cast, these films do absolutely nothing for me. It’s not that I’m some sort of cold-hearted bastard who’s never experienced anything resembling love; I just feel that most motion pictures that claim to be romantic in nature aren’t very genuine. They simply go through the proverbial motions without too much thought put towards anything other than manufactured emotions and predictable storylines. If this tells you anything, I happen to believe that “Eagle vs. Shark” is one of the most romantic movies in recent memory. And, no, I’m not kidding.
Director Hwang In-ho’s 2011 drama “Spellbound” (aka “Chilling Romance”) contains everything that I loathe about the genre. Generic meet-cutes, annoying best friends, ridiculous plotting, overblown melodrama — it’s all there, and then some. “Spellbound” springs from the same cinematic well that has birthed every single lovey-dovey movie ever made, and the filmmakers do very little to hide the fact that this formula has been used countless times before. However, what prevents this lukewarm endeavor from being a total waste of everyone’s time are its charming cast and, believe it or not, some surprisingly creepy moments.
Lee Min-ki stars as Jo-goo, a street magician who is struggling to make ends meet. Although his skills are impressive, his shows lack the hook necessary to ensnare a mainstream audience. All of that changes when he meets Yeo-ri (Son Ye-jin), a woman who possesses the ability to see ghosts, a gift that has pretty much ruined her entire life. Using this tortured young lady’s unusual demeanor as inspiration, Jo-goo puts together a horror-themed magic routine which becomes a runaway success almost overnight. Yeo-ri, however, seems unaffected by it all, and prefers to spend her nights alone instead of hanging out with her co-workers.
After a year’s worth of rejection, Jo-goo finally insists that Yeo-ri accompany the rest of the cast and crew for drinks. Since the boss is putting his foot down, she really has no other option. During a night of drinks and candid conversation, Jo-goo develops a fondness for his employee, and the two develop a fast friendship. However, Yeo-ri’s ability to see the dead, as well as the violent tendencies of these otherworldly visitors, prevents her from getting too close to the man she secretly adores. Will true love blossom, or will supernatural forces ultimately destroy any hope of happiness? I don’t think you need too many guesses to figure this one out.
Like most romantic comedies, “Spellbound” is more about the journey than the destination. It’s clear from the get-go that Hwang In-ho isn’t interested in breaking new ground. The entire movie is easily mapped out, and you can pretty much predict everything that’s going to happen at least 15 minutes before it occurs. Thankfully, Son Ye-jin and Lee Min-ki have decent chemistry, and both of their characters are instantly likeable. The scene where Yeo-ri shields Jo-goo’s eyes from an impending scare is easily the sweetest moment in the entire flick, though, to be fair, there aren’t many to choose from. In fact, the entire experience is pretty uneven, bouncing wildly between comedy and horror and cheap melodrama without much style or grace. Still, the film is enjoyable for what it is, and provides a number of unexpected creep-outs.
Some might say that I’m being overly harsh in my assessment of “Spellbound”, and, for most part, they might be right. The film gives viewers precisely what they want, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. However, those of us who have grown tired of the same old romantic cliches will quickly grow bored with the film’s love-stricken melodrama, especially since the movie is about 20 minutes too long. As long as you don’t mind the familiarity of the storyline and its inhabitants, “Spellbound” should give genre junkies enough gooey cinematic romance to satisfy their insatiable cravings for teary-eyed drama. Honestly, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this.
Hwang In-ho (director) / Hwang In-ho (screenplay)
CAST: Son Ye-Jin … Kang Yeo-Ri
Lee Min-Ki … Ma Jo-Goo
Park Cheol-Min … Pil-Dong
Kim Hyun-Suk … Min-Jung
Lee Mi-Do … Yoo-Jin