The concept that "opposites attract" has served romantic comedy films well since at least, oh, off the top of my head, Howard Hawk's 1938 classic Bringing Up Baby. So it's nice to see it used in such a delightful and fresh way as it is here. First time director Kim Sung-wook, who also wrote the screenplay, has come "out of the gate" with a hilarious comedy of manners - or lack thereof on the part of some characters - that had me laughing a lot, sometimes out loud, as I watched a screener DVD in my living room. Not too shabby, especially when you consider how difficult comedy really is, and even more so with sub-titles!
Hwang Ki-baek is a handsome doctor who specializes in breast implants. He comes from a very wealthy family and is also quite a playboy. One day, a girlfriend tricks him into going para-gliding - he's expecting sex - and he freaks out in mid-flight. Strapped in front of his instructor, he causes the two of them to land in a tree, after which he discovers that: (1) His instructor is a lovely young woman and that (2) In his fear, he'd lost control of his bladder and is now exhibiting a huge wet spot down the front of his pants.
From this inauspicious start, love comes to bloom between Ki-baek and the instructor, Park Eun-ho. She comes from a very modest and traditional background. Although she does para-gliding on the weekends, her real vocation is making dolls out of mulberry paper and teaching classes - albeit small ones - in this Korean folk craft. She also does a martial art that resembles Tai Chi.
Having overcome their initial mutual animosity and cultural differences, the would-be couple then has to deal with the opposition of their single parents. Ki-baek's mother, Shim Mar-uyun, is a real estate wheeler-dealer, who has affectations of culture and sophistication, but who can be as coarse-mouthed as any sailer. Eun ho's father, Park Ji-mahn, is a widower, a former marine, a collector of ink stones, and a practitioner of martial arts and feng shui.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Mrs. Shim is involved with an American partner in developing a luxurious golf course, but has been stymied by one landowner who refuses to sell out. Mr. Park, naturally, is the owner in question. In a development that's sort of a negative parallel to their children overcoming their differences, these two put aside their mutual distaste, only their efforts are to prevent the couple from uniting.
Given the film's title and the fact that it's a romantic comedy, I'm surely not giving anything away in saying that the wedding ultimately takes place. But it's in the getting there wherein the fun lies, and there's lots of fun along the way.
Kim Yoo-jin, also anglicized as Eugene or Eu Gene, is a pop star and TV actress here making her big screen debut. She's obviously lovely and definitely talented. She can play it straight, tough or comic, depending on what a scene calls for.
Ha Seok-jin (also Ha Suk Jin) is fine as Ki-baek. It's a rather thankless roll, as most of the comedy comes from the other three leads.
Lim Chae Moo, recently in Highway Star, acquits himself wonderfully as Eun-ho's father. Gruff at times, tender at others, his best scene may be his confrontation with a fancy ultra-modern Western-style toilet at Mrs. Shim's home.
But if the movie can be said to clearly belong most to one actor, that would have to be Kim Soo-mi as Mrs. Shim. Her performance is masterful. She can instantly change from being utterly pretentious to shockingly crass, yet still humanize her character in her few scenes that call for touching drama. I'm predicting a Korean film award for her, or at least a nomination.
The film also gives some good moments to Mr. Park's younger brother, who engraves seals and is not above extorting money from Ki-baek, and to Ki-Baek's younger sister, a seeming air-head with her mother's acquisitive propensities but not her business smarts. Her reaction to him saying that she is as smart as she is beautiful is priceless. And don't miss them in the coda that plays in a window as the end credits roll.
The clash between traditional values and the potentially corrupting influence of Westernization had been a concern of Koreans and Korean films since at least the 1990s, the decade the 3-8-6 filmmakers emerged. [They were so named because they were in their 30s, had been in college in the 1980s, and had been born in the 60s.] Unstoppable Marriage, which does not totally deplore modernization, clearly comes down most strongly in favor of the traditional. Still, it's nice to see Andrew, Mrs. Shim's partner and the only Westerner in the film, portrayed not as a money-grubbing American, but as a sensitive person who appreciates the value of traditional Korean crafts and sensibilities. This is a far cry, say, from the portrayal of Americans in the recent monster/horror hit The Host.
Unstoppable Marriage (also sometimes called Unpreventable Marriage) had its "International Premiere" - by which I assume is meant its first screening outside of Korea - at the NYKFF 2007 on Friday, August 24th and will have its second and final screening on Wednesday, August 29th at 9:00 PM. For further info, click on this link.
The film easily earns a 3.5 out of 4 star ACF rating.