“ESP Couple” marks the debut of editor Kim Hyung Joo, who previously worked on the likes of “My Dear Enemy”, “Evil Twin”, and “Don’t Look Back”. Perhaps unable to choose exactly a genre, Kim instead decided to combines elements from several, and as a result although ostensibly a romantic comedy, the film also works in science fiction and kidnap thriller elements. Although this may sound a little strange, this odd approach actually works in the film’s favour, since the last thing viewers really need is yet another cute Korean “Sassy Girl” clone.
The plot follows Su Min (Jin Goo, recently in serial killer thriller “Truck”), a college student who keeps his psychic powers a secret, living a quiet, lonely life. One day at an art gallery he is accosted by a strange girl called Hyun Jin (Park Bo Young, “Speedy Scandal”) who insists on following him around. After an incident in the park involving an undercover police attempt to arrest a kidnapper gives her a display of his abilities, she attaches herself to him, determined to find out exactly what he is capable of. Needless to say, his feelings for his gradually change from annoyance to romantic yearning, though she herself appears to be hiding a secret of her own.
“ESP Couple” really is quite bizarre, with a meandering plot that basically jumps from set piece to set piece as Hyun Jin drags Su Min between daft situations, such as trying to use his powers to get them a free lunch or to attempting to read the minds of strangers to find out if they have ever been rock climbing. However, Kim holds things together thanks to an intriguing undercurrent of mystery as to exactly who Hyun Jin really is and what her motivations for driving Su Min might be. Although most experienced viewers will have likely guessed the big twist long before the final act thanks to a series of increasingly obvious hints, it works well and manages to tie all the loose ends together quite nicely.
In terms of both romance and comedy, the film is surprisingly, though pleasingly low-key. Although the relationship between Hyun Jin and Su Min builds in predictable fashion and is hampered by its inevitability, it never feels forced, and Kim stops short of allowing unbelievable full love to blossom. As such, it is all the more convincing for it, thanks in part to charming performances from both Park Bo Young and Jin Goo, and the film is genuinely quite touching towards the end in a manner which makes the final twist far easier to swallow. Similarly, the film is amusing throughout, though in deadpan fashion, with little in the way of over the top slapstick or tiresome pratfalls. Kim derives most of the humour from the strange situations which the characters end up in, and as such ensures that the laughs never detract from the plot.
Visually the film is quite impressive, with Kim representing Su Min’s psychic powers through strange flickering images, blurring and shaky camera work, all of which is effective without being over the top. As might be expected from an editor turned director, he keeps the film tight and well paced, and clocking in at only an hour and twenty minutes it never outstays its welcome. He does employ a variety of different techniques and styles that help to keep the film interesting, though in controlled fashion and without ever lapsing into the kind of forced stylishness that so many first time directors are prone to. Also in the film’s favour is the fact that Kim shies away from too many mock cute touches, saving it all for one long, silent animated explanatory sequence near the end, which actually works very well.
As such, “ESP Couple” is short and sweet, and although it does end a little abruptly, is one of the few films of its type to leave the viewer wanting more. Sufficiently different to stand out from the crowd, it delivers charmingly entertaining viewing that successfully mixes a variety of genres to wacky, though surprisingly coherent effective. Having shown himself to be an eccentric talent, it will be interesting to see what director Kim Hyung Joo turns his hand to next, though it is certainly hoped that he will continue down such a creative and oddball road.
Kim Hyeong-joo (director) / Kim Hyeong-joo (screenplay)
CAST: Jin Goo, Park Bo-yeong, Lee Sang-hong