Korean actor Jung Jae Young, recently in time travel thriller “11 A.M.” and known for tough guy roles in the likes of “Public Enemy Returns”, “Silmido” and others, tries something different in “The Plan Man”, playing a severely obsessive compulsive man struggling to find love and cope with life. The debut film from director Sung Si Heub, the film walks a fine line between comedy and drama as it tries to laugh at and along with its protagonist while generating sympathy for his plight.
Jung stars as Jung Seok, a librarian who lives his life exactly according to an ultra-strict regime, setting an alarm for almost every aspect of his day, as well as fanatically avoiding germs and trying to make everyone around him neat and tidy. Obsessed with a young woman called Ji Won (Cha Ye Ryun, “Sector 7”) who works in the local convenience store which he visits at the same time every day, he believes her to have the same affliction as him, and decides to stalk and observe her for one hundred days before confessing his love. Unfortunately, his timing is off, and he accidentally confesses instead to messy musician So Jung (Han Ji Min, “Detective K”), who despite being his polar opposite takes an immediate liking to him and persuades him to join her in auditioning for a television music contest. After he finds that Ji Won is desperate to change her anally retentive ways he decides to do the same, and agrees to let So Jung take him under her wing, allowing her to throw his carefully ordered existence into chaos.
Balancing wacky humour with serious character drama is a tricky act to pull off, especially given the melodramatic excesses that many Korean genre films tend to be prone to. Although “The Plan Man” isn’t wholly successful, it thankfully does a better job than most, mainly since its last act shift into tragedy and tears is signposted from early on, Sung Si Heub clearly having more on his mind than slapstick and “Sassy Girl” style shenanigans. For the first two thirds, the film is surprisingly funny despite a familiar odd couple romance theme, and it gets some solid comic mileage from its initially light-hearted treatment of Jung Seok’s condition and So Jung’s efforts to drag him back to what she considers normality. Though most of the gags are fairly obvious, the script works in a few reasonably clever set pieces as his life gradually falls apart and the usual clichés are rolled out with enthusiasm and a decent sense of timing.
Jung Jae Young is great in the lead, playing amusingly against type, and again shows himself to be a remarkably versatile actor, managing to make the viewer care about poor Jung Seok at the same time as laughing with/at him. Han Ji Min is similarly effective, and while she’s cast here in the kind of typical brash and kooky female role so beloved of Korean romantic comedies, she’s charismatic and likeable enough to pull it off. The relationship which grows between the two might not be particularly believable or original (which sadly would probably be asking a bit much), it’s fun to watch and makes for a few semi-moving moments.
With the two leads on good form, the slide into seriousness and tears isn’t too offensive, partly since Sung Si Heub does seem to have been genuinely trying to explore the damaged psyche of his protagonist. Catharsis is the order of the day here, and though points are lost for a subplot involving Jun Seok’s self-help group, populated entirely by cheap stereotypes, the film benefits from not building towards the kind of rousing climax suggested by the singing competition plot device. The flashbacks and revelations do come a bit too thick and fast during the finale, trying the patience a little, but the final scenes are heartfelt enough to at least partly justify their use – especially when bearing in mind that it’s quite possible that Sung meant the film as a commentary about modern Korean society and the incredible pressure it piles on everyday people, putting a humanistic spin on the proceedings and adding a touch of substance.
Whether choosing to read more into “The Plan Man” or not, on a basic level it’s an above average Korean comedy, with plenty of funny scenes, an earnest premise and likeable characters. Sung Si Heub’s direction is nothing special, though he gets the most out of his strong lead stars, and Jung Jae Young’s performance lifts the film a couple of notches above the usual genre fare.
Si-Heup Seong (director) / Lee Jung-a (screenplay)
CAST: Jae-yeong Jeong … Han Jeong-seok
Ji-min Han … Yoo So-jeong
Ye-ryeon Cha … Lee Ji-won