Sunday, January 11, 2009

Almost Love (Korea 2006)

The super-duo from My Tutor Friend, Kim Ha-neul and Kwan Sang-woo, are back in Almost Love (청춘만화). Is it as good as their first pairing together? Of course not, and not many Korean romantic comedies are. A sharp turn into the melodramatic keeps this one from being a complete success...oh so close.

Ji Hwan (Kwan Sang-woo), is an aspiring stuntman who emulates his lifestyle, and look, after that of the legendary action-star Jackie Chan. His best friend since childhood, Dal-rae (Kim Ha-neul), also aspires to enter the world of entertainment as an actress. The two friends know more about each other than anyone else in the world and it shows. They have the best times together and they also can get on each others nerves better than anyone, and Ji Hwan definitely loves driving Dal-rae crazy. The textbook definition of best friends. Dal-rae begins dating Young-hoon (Lee Sang-woo), who is a friend and fellow Taekwondo teammate of Ji Hwan. It's soon apparent that three can definitely be a crowd when they all hang out together, because Young-hoon can't help but notice that no matter how hard he tries, he will never know and understand Dal-rae as good as Ji Hwan does. It isn't all bad though as Dal-rae, after countless failed auditions, lands her first acting gig, and Ji Hwan finally gets his big break pulling off the main stunt in a major film. Things couldn't be better for the two in a professional sense, and naturally they look forward to telling each other about their success. However, they aren't able to savor their achievements when personal tragedy strikes Ji Hwan. What happens is so incredibly huge that Ji Hwan can't even bear to face his friends and family and disappears on a year-long soul search. Dal-rae, Young-hoon, and Ji Hwans father (Jeong Gyoo-soo), are frustrated at his disapperance, but try their best to understand what he's going through. Ji Hwan must come to terms with the new life that awaits him if he wants to see his loved ones again. Is his bond with Dal-rae strong enough to bring him home?

Make no mistake about it, the on-screen pairing of Kim Ha-neul and Kwan Sang-woo is cinema gold. These two have proven they have entertaining chemistry together and it's clearly evident in Almost Love as well. That being said, the issues I have with the movie have nothing to do with the competency, or quality, of the actors, but more so in the brick wall of melodrama that the story crashes into. The first half of the movie is romantic-comedy all the way, and it does that just fine. After the personal tragedy for Kwan Sang-woo's character, the second half of the movie turns into a melodrama, thereby making the movie feel like two separate genres, and almost two separate movies...almost. However, the relationship between our two protagonists is so strong, and so well built, that even through the sudden change in the story, they manage to keep things entertaining, engaging, and even very touching.

Almost Love is an unbalanced affair, but still a very worthwhile viewing experience. Most will watch this one for it's two main stars, and that's really who this film is for. That target audience of fans should be more than pleased. (Lee)

Grade: C+


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