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“Very Ordinary Couple” is a Korean romantic comedy which attempts to inject a little realism into the usual formula, following the trials and tribulations of a couple who go through a series of breakups and makeups. The film was written and directed by first-timer Roh Deok, who apparently drew on her own love experiences and those of her friends while scripting, and the film takes a more down to earth approach rather than the usual cutesiness and sassy behaviour. This struck a chord with Korean audiences, and the film proved popular, opening at the top of the domestic box office.
The film is shot partly in the style of a documentary, in which two bank clerks and former lovers tell all about their relationship. The on-off couple in question are Jang Young (Kim Min Hee, “Helpless”) and Dong Hee (Lee Min Ki, “Spellbound”), who dated in secret for years before breaking up. Still working together in the same bank puts great pressure on the two, made worse by Dong Hee quickly moving on and finding a new, younger girlfriend. Though they end up screaming at each other at a company party, it’s clear that they still have feelings for each other, and decide to give things another go. However, they find that the bond between them has changed, and despite their best efforts it seems like a happy ending might not be on the cards.
The documentary style approach, which sees Roh Deok working in interviews and found footage flashbacks, works very well, and “Very Ordinary Couple” certainly stands out from the legions of other Korean romantic comedies. Though the film is very funny and has its share of the usual wackiness and moments of slapstick, there’s also an impressive maturity at work here, thanks to Roh’s fantastic script, which works in believable anecdotal details throughout. The film’s take on love and relationships rings true, often painfully so, and the story is somewhat unpredictable as a result, diverging from the usual clichés as it builds towards an ending that’s both rewarding and convincing.
Whether they want to or not, many viewers will likely recognise something of themselves in Jang Young and Dong Hee – there’s sweetness and romance here, though bitterness and cruelty too, and while Roh’s direction is light and playful, she never shies away from the fact that people in love make bad decisions and end up hurting each other. The laughs are balanced here not so much by tears and melodrama, but by a move towards understanding, and this makes the film moving in a genuine and thoughtful way.
The character writing is similarly strong, and the film’s success is in no small part down to the fact that the viewer comes to like both Jang Young and Dong Hee, despite their many flaws and mistakes. The script flips skilfully between their different perspectives, making for some telling observations on the many differences between men and women, though thankfully the two are fully fleshed out figures and not mere cyphers for their sexes. Kim Min Hee and Lee Min Ki turn in charismatic performances, and this gives the film another real boost, as it’s rare to see such substantial, appealing, and most importantly, recognisable protagonists in the notoriously slight romantic comedy genre. It also helps that Roh avoids cluttering the film with the usual collection of comedy relief best friends and subplots, and this keeps things grounded and focused on the central couple.
Though its message is ultimately nothing new, “Very Ordinary Couple” is a fresh and vibrant take on a genre notorious for churning out more and more of the same. It’s a very solid debut for Roh Deok both as writer and director, and one of the very few rom-coms that manages to combine melodrama with laughs, while at the same time offering an astute and sharp depiction of the complications of modern love.
Deok Noh (director) / Deok Noh (screenplay)
CAST: Moo-Seong Choi
Yeon-soo Ha … Hyo-Sun
Min-hee Kim … Jang Young
Min-hie Kim … Jang-yeong
Min-ki Lee … Lee Dong-Hee