Soppy love story among Busan gangsI confess I would have cried a river if I’d seen “Sarang (A Love)” when I was fifteen. That was how old I was when I saw “The Bodyguard” starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. I embarrassed my sister by shedding too many tears at the theater. When Houston ― I don’t even remember her character’s name ― stopped her private jet, ran out of the plane and kissed Costner goodbye, I wanted so badly to experience that kind of unattainable passion.
Now I am old enough to know both the laughter and tears of love, and that’s no longer what I want to see on screen.
A Love, released earlier this month on DVD, falls into the category of juvenile romance. To watch it, I only had to use a third of my brain.
But you might be interested in the movie if you remember the director, Gwak Kyung-taek, who shot the 2001 box-office hit “Chingoo (Friend).”
Friend, about school buddies-turned-enemies in the ganglands of the port city of Busan, was the first Korean film to sell 7 million tickets, signaling a renaissance in Korean cinema.
Since then, several films have sold over 10 million tickets, but the Korean film scene is now considered to be in a trough.
Successful directors like Gwak have fallen off the radar. His recent productions in particular, haven’t been commercial or critical successes.
But he’s announced his return with A Love, even though it sold just 2 million tickets, a modest box office return considering the phenomenal success of Friend.
A Love is, naturally, about a love, and contains elements that are typical of Gwak’s masculine style of filmmaking.
Every 20 minutes or so, the characters get into testosterone-filled scraps, scenes splattered with blood and reeking of male bonding.
A Love is also shot in Busan, the director’s hometown and source of inspiration. The male lead, In-ho (Ju Jin-mo), is a naive macho (in a good way) guy who falls in love with Mi-ju (Park Si-yeon).
Their relationship is wrapped in tragedy. The girl is raped as an act of revenge after her mother and brother both die before they settled financial debts with a gang.
In-ho retaliates by attacking the rapist, and he and Mi-ju try to escape, but they are thwarted by the gangsters.
Mi-ju ends up going to Japan and In-ho goes to jail. After his release, he finds a job at a steel company and gets scouted by its owner to be his personal secretary and bodyguard.
Life gets a little easier for him, until suddenly Mi-ju reappears ― as his boss’s mistress.
If you’re generous enough to forgive so many gratuitous action sequences and the female lead’s lack of independence, this DVD won’t waste your time over the weekend.
But brace yourself for a final scene that overdoses on melodrama.
The camera is fixed on In-ho for some five minutes as he stands on the edge of a cliff ― the film lasts 104 minutes; and that five minutes takes up a chunk of running time.
The cast, though, are the highlight of this movie. The leads are well cast and can deliver dialogue, unlike some pretty-faced actors these days whose Korean sometimes sounds like broken French.
The jewel of the film is Kim Min-joon who plays Chi-gwon, the deliciously evil gang leader who leads the star-crossed lovers to their deaths.
The special features fall rather flat, just some cast and crew interviews, a short about the making of the film and a trailer. There are no English subtitles for the extras, but that’s usual for most Korean DVDs.
Sarang (A Love)
Directed by Gwak Kyung-taek
Starring: Ju Jin-mo, Park Si-yeon
Running Time: 104 minutes
Genre: Romance/ Action
By Chun Su-jin Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]