ContactSales: M-Line Distribution, Seoul ([email protected])
Theatrical release: South Korea, 2 Nov 2011.
Presented by Sidus FNH (SK). Produced by Barunson Film Division (SK), Sio Film (SK). Executive producer: Gang In-shik. Producers: Seo U-shik, Syd Lim.
Script: Lee Gye-byeok. Adaptation: Jeong Yong-ki, Kim Jeong-gu. Film: A Stranger of Mine 運命じゃない人 (2005; dir. Uchida Kenji 内田けんじ). Photography: Na Hui-seok. Editing: Mun In-dae. Music: Bang Jun-seok. Art direction: Yang Hong-sam. Costumes: Choi Ik-yeong.
Cast: Kim Ju-hyeok (Kim Yu-seok), Lee Yun-ji (Choi Ae-yeon), Lee Shi-yeong (Hwang Na-ri), Oh Jeong-se (Park Bok-nam), Gong Hyeong-jin (Lee Byeong-chan, the gangster), Won Ung-jae (Sang-du), Jo Dal-hwan (Sang-gi), Jo Han-cheol (Gong Taek-jung), Bae Seul-gi (Su-jin, Ae-yeon's colleague), Won Sang-yeon (bridegroom).
Contemporary light comedy
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 109 mins
Directed by Jeong Yong-ki (정용기 | 鄭龍基)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 24 March 2012, 09:50 AM (HKT)
Clever mix of rom-com and caper movie sports a precision script and likable cast. Asian events.
Seoul, the present day. Two months after his girlfriend Hwang Na-ri (Lee Shi-yeong) disappeared one evening, after he'd bought a house for them to live in, Kim Yu-seok (Kim Ju-hyeok), owner of herbal-tea cafe Madagascar, still has no news of her whereabouts. One day, he almost crashes his car into a taxi when a rubber ball falls from an upstairs window; no one is hurt but the taxi-driver threatens to sue him. Afterwards, while waiting to arrange a loan at a bank, he's held prisoner by some bank robbers and almost accused of sexual harrassment by one of his fellow prisoners. He's helped out by Choi Ae-yeon (Lee Yun-ji), a traffic policewoman who vouches for him. That evening in a cafe, he meets his friend, private detective Park Bok-nam (Oh Jeong-se), who says he's found Na-ri but she doesn't want to meet Yu-seok. Bok-nam then suddenly leaves. In the same cafe, Yu-seok spots Ae-yeon and, after being soaked by a passing car, she ends up at his house to change her clothes. At the same moment, Na-ri suddenly turns up, totally unapologetic, to collect something she left at the house. Ae-yeon beats a hasty retreat, but Yu-seok runs after her, wanting to see her again. Over the next few hours, everything is revealed to be not what it seemed, as well as involving another couple, a gangster (Gong Hyeong-jin) who's been cheated out of some money, and a multitude of crossed paths.
Couples 커플즈 (2011) is a precision-tooled cross between a rom-com and a caper movie that surprisingly doesn't run out of steam halfway through. Ingeniously constructed with overlapping stories and multiple deceptions, and largely set across the space of 24 hours, the Swiss clock-like script is the main driver, rather than the character's emotions. But thanks to an unhurried set-up that lasts 25 minutes of screen time, the audience has plenty of time to get to know the main protagonists before the script starts pulling its various twists. It's a smart decision by director JEONG Yong-ki 정용기 | 鄭龍基, and he has a cast that's immediately likable and has a natural chemistry with each other. As a result, the romantic and comic elements aren't pushed aside by all the plot mechanisms that keep on coming for the remaining 80 minutes.
Jeong's career as a director has been largely centred on comedies (Marrying the Mafia 2: Enemy in Law 가문의영광Ⅱ 가문의위기 (2005), Marrying the Mafia 3: Family Hustle 가문의영광Ⅲ 가문의부활 (2006), The Righteous Thief 홍길동의 후예 (2009)), with okay but not memorable results. Here, the highly-honed script seems to have worked in his favour, with no latitude for unnecessary goofing around. Performances are tight and focused, and manage to give life to characters who are basically only there to be moved around by the writers. The biggest name in the cast, KIM Ju-hyeok 김주혁 | 金桂赫 — from Singles 싱글즈 (2003), Blue Swallow 청연 (2005) and The Servant 방자전 (2010) — anchors the shennanigans with a kind of mature neediness that plays off well against perky TV actress LEE Yun-ji 이윤지 as his traffic-cop amorata and LEE Shi-yeong 이시영 | 李是英 as his gold-digging former one. The latter — probably South Korea's only actress who is also an amateur champion boxer — is perfectly cast as the shameless Na-ri, and shows the same gift for physical comedy as in The Righteous Thief. On the supporting side, OH Jeong-se 오정세 | 吳政世 is fine as the private detective who gets more involved than he should; but GONG Hyeong-jin 공형진 | 孔烔軫 is too light as the gangster after his money.
Though the movie is based on an earlier Japanese one — A Stranger of Mine 運命じゃない人 (2004), written and directed by UCHIDA Kenji 内田けんじ — it looks and feels utterly South Korean in its settings and generic characters; is far more slickly shot and edited, with especially smooth cutting by MUN In-dae 문인대; and is more richly formatted in plot and construction. With a really starry cast, it might have made more impression at the local box-office than it did; but the lack of starpower at least allows for the characters to come through. For those who like cleverly constructed, boxes-within-boxes light comedies, Couples is the charm.