Jae-young Kwak is pretty much king of the Korean romantic comedy, having been responsible for “My Sassy Girl”, the box office smash which revitalized the genre and which is soon to be the subject of a needless Hollywood makeover. Here, he re-teams with the gorgeous star of that film, Ji-hyun Jun (“Il Mare”) in an attempt to recreate its magic in the form of a semi-prequel.
Thankfully, as the original was followed by countless inferior imitations, Kwak at least makes an effort to do something slightly different with “Windstruck”, a film of two quite different halves and which pays as much attention to the bitter as it does to the sweet. Although there is nothing particularly new on show here, Kwak succeeds in creating an amusing and genuinely moving highpoint in a genre that is as plagued with as much dross as that of the Asian ghost story.
Ji-hyun Jun plays Kyungjin, a police officer who finds herself chasing down a suspected bag-snatcher on her day off. However, the man she catches turns out to be Myungwoo (Hyuk Jang, “Volcano High”), a passer-by who was himself trying to apprehend the real criminal. In an unsurprising turn of events, the two are partnered together after Myungwoo volunteers to patrol the red light district looking for unruly students. I’m not sure if this is a common practice in Korea or a contrivance of the plot, but soon enough the mismatched pair is falling deeply (if touchingly dysfunctional) love. However, events take a tragic, if somewhat expected, turn and Kyungjin is left questioning everything and searching for a reason to live.
I assure you, though you can probably guess pretty much everything that happens in “Windstruck” from the above synopsis, I can honestly say that I’ve included no spoilers. The film sets out its stall right from the beginning, with a Korean cover version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, and the slow-motion sight of Ji-hyun Jun throwing herself off a building. The rest of the story is told in flashback, narrated by Jang, and events move with a pleasing swiftness through the first half of the film.
The pace at which Kwak keeps things moving is a real plus, and helps distract from the fact that much of the first hour is little more than a series of skillfully woven romantic cliché. However, Kwak is good at this sort of thing, and though the film occasionally lurches into over indulgence with the ill-judged use of oldies on the soundtrack, it’s all generally quite winning and manages to include a few fairly amusing moments.
The second hour is definitely the stronger, and where things get more interesting. Without wishing to spoil too much, it gives Kwak a chance to throw in some heavy angst, gunplay, and even some scenes of surprising violence. Although Kwak is clearly not an action director, these sequences help to give “Windstruck” a somewhat harder edge, and keep the viewer interested as to where the plot is going. I’m not trying to suggest that this makes “Windstruck” a film for fans of the thriller or crime genres, but simply that it gives the film a welcome injection of pace and sets up a number of surprisingly exciting and ultimately moving payoffs.
The heart of “Windstruck” is obviously Ji-hyun Jun, and thankfully she gives an excellent performance in a role that allows her to stretch her acting muscles, playing a combination of her characters in “My Sassy Girl” and “The Uninvited”. Simply put, she generates an incredible measure of empathy, being an actress not just of immeasurable cuteness, but having that rare quality that makes the screen glow whenever she is on, which is for almost the entire film. This is probably just as well, as Hyuk Jang’s performance consists mainly of frantic mugging and soulful staring, and though adequate as comic relief, he never really convinces.
The rating for “Windstruck” is quite straightforward. If you are a fan of the director, the female star, or Korean romantic comedies in general, this is a four-star release that should not be missed. However, if everything I’ve written above makes you feel even vaguely queasy at the thought of such a sugar overdose, stay well away. Personally, I think this is the best film of its type since “My Sassy Girl”, and one which deserves to be every bit as successful before it inspires its own landslide of rip-offs that lack even half of its considerable charm and heart.
Did I cry? Hah. I’ll never tell.
Jae-young Kwak (director) / Jae-young Kwak (screenplay)
CAST: Ji-hyun Jun …. Kyung-jin Yeo
Hyuk Jang …. Myung-woo Ko