“The Perfect Couple” sees the return of Korean director Kim Jung Woo, who previously enjoyed success with his 2006 boxing comedy debut “Oh! My God”. Here, he again goes for a mix of genres, ambitiously attempting to combine elements of comedy, romance and police thriller into an entertaining whole. The film certainly struck a chord with audiences, pulling in an impressive 2.5 million admissions at the domestic box office during its release, most likely due to its offering something a little different from the norm.
After a couple of amusing character introductions, the plot begins as harebrained journalist Choi Soo Jin (Hyun Young, “The Art of Seduction”) accidentally stabs Detective Kang Jae Hyuk (Lee Dong Wook, “Arang”) with a fish snack skewer while he is chasing a criminal. From this unconventional beginning a relationship of sorts gradually grows, as the two become involved with making a reality television program about his police work. However, the path to romance is far from smooth, not least of which because the two barely seems able to stand each other, and as a result spend most of their time scheming ways to cause each other embarrassment or pain.
Strangely enough, despite being pitched as a wacky relationship film, “The Perfect Couple” actually features very little in the way of courtship or passion, and director Kang seems happy enough for things to progress solely on the basis that the viewer expects the two characters to end up in each other’s arms. This is probably for the best, since Kang and Choi never make for a believable, let alone perfect couple, and the romantic aspect of the plot falls pretty flat. This is mainly due to the fact that whilst Kang’s moody detective is played relatively straight, Choi is a shrill, psychotic drunkard who, up until a last minute of self-realisation acts like a mean spirited idiot.
Although mismatched couple films with aggressive female protagonists have been popular since the success of “My Sassy Girl”, in this case things are pushed a little too far, and Choi never really comes across as being more than a thoughtless caricature. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone not feeling sympathy for the much put-upon Kang, who spends most of the film being abused and humiliated, and who displays the patience of a saint in not shooting her in the line of duty.
Oddly enough, this doesn’t particularly get in the way of the film being enjoyable, and in this it can perhaps be seen as an anti-romantic comedy, with the characters kicking and screaming at each other up until the last moment and quite possibly beyond. This is certainly preferable to the usual sudden spouting of teary-eyed protestations of love commonly witnessed in this kind of film. Kim Jung Woo deserves some credit for not forcing his hand and asking the viewer to believe that the two could switch so abruptly from antagonism to amour.
The dysfunctional central relationship aside, “The Perfect Couple” is really a film of two halves, with the first being given over to one-upmanship comedy and the second to drug-busting police thrills. Although the two never quite gel together, they are both effective, with a good few laughs early on, mainly at the expense of Choi’s daft behaviour and the couple’s incessant bickering, and with some surprisingly bloody action and fight scenes towards the climax. This does make for rather uneven viewing, and the film lacks any real sense of identity or coherence, though the various shifts in tone do prevent things from ever becoming too dull or predictable.
As a result, despite not being wholly successful, the film is entertaining and amusing enough, and it does manage to stand out from the hordes of other similarly themed efforts. More than anything, it’s nice to see a director trying something a little different with the romantic comedy form, a genre which is badly in need of innovation.
Jeong-woo Kim (director) / Jeong-woo Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Jeon Soo-kyeong, Lee Dong-wook, Hyeon Yeong, Lee Jeong-heo, Kim Seung-min, Lee Myeong-ji