Sunday, March 11, 2012

At the (Korean) Movies in NY 3: My Dear Enemy

One more, this one comes from a series of films that is still going on at The Japan Society called Love Will Tear us Apart. It looks at all manner of strained, destroyed, and just plain strange relationships. In a move that celebrates what cultures have in common whether than keeping them isolated, the event features movies from both Japan and Korea. Hopefully you can catch some gems still waiting to screened.

My Dear Enemy (Love Will Tear Us Apart, Japan Society)

Apart from its focus on two main characters held together by a frosted over past relationship, My Dear Enemy is the polar opposite of Quick.  The subtly witty conversations are interspersed with long, patient silences as the film meanders through the hours between a morning and somewhere later in the same day's evening.  I love it, but admittedly I am a sucker for this sort of stubbornly slow moving indie film with a fair share of slight yet unexpected turns.  Some, though, will no doubt experience it as a bit of an endurance test with its lack of dynamic interactions and an unchanging jazz score.  

Korean slacker road trip gone wrong comedy Daytime Drinking is a good reference point for the pace and awkward humor that can be expected.  It also hits my soft spot for dramas about unlikely couples, fitting in nicely with the likes of Last Life in the Universe, Castaways on the Moon, and even Buffalo 66.  Except My Dear Enemy never quite reaches any of the dramatic tension that sometimes arises in those movies.  And while they focus on the beginnings of unlikely new relationships, My Dear Enemy begins one year after the magic has ended.

The film starts with Hee-su tracking down her former boyfriend, Byeong-woon, at an off-track betting site.  She is there to collect money that she lent him before they split up.  The rest of the film involves them driving around authentically mundane suburban outskirts of Seoul encountering various grifts, love interests, and family relations from Byeong-woon’s carefree existence.

Not much else happens, but the steady focus on Hee-su and Byeong-won’s interactions speaks volumes about who they are and what might have transpired in the past.  Both leads shine with low key brilliance.  Byeong-won is a character that everyone must know or at least have spent some time with in their lives.  Never appearing to work or worry about very much, yet somehow getting by.  He has countless acquaintances that acknowledge him wherever he goes, yet none seem to go beyond superficial connections.  And seemingly a highly cultured man of the world if you heard him talk for more than one (but less than a few) minutes.  A standout moment finds him complaining about the lack of civility in eating fast food meals, then placing a very detailed and overly refined order right before trying to slip the bill in with Hee-su’s previously made order.

Hee-su may have the quieter role, but she expresses volumes with her tightly controlled expressions.  She is standoffish,  determined to not be taken advantage of, yet she has a traditional selflessness that shines through in her treatment of the staggering number of Byeong-won’s associates that she is forced to meet.  As the day wears on, we continue to see Byeong-won through Hee-su’s weary eyes, and notice a gradual, delicately rendered change in perspective.  Mixed in with frustration and disgust are feelings of understanding and pity.  Perhaps they are feelings that Byeong-won brings out in the viewer as well, as his character is a bit more than what at first meets the eye. (I highly recommend checking out other films in accomplished actor Jung-woo Ha’s career, including Time, The Chaser, and Yellow Sea for a notion of his range).

Had their encounters along the road been a bit more off the wall, sure My Dear Enemy might have been a more well known crowd-pleaser.  At the same time, it might have lost that special something that makes it such a genuine-feeling story.

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