Mainstream Korean romantic comedies are, generally speaking, quite innocent. Shy glances caused from an accidental meeting? Check. The embarrassment caused from accidental skin-to-skin contact? Check. The man carrying his injured loved one to safety whilst crying? Check, check, check.
Not so with My P.S. Partner (나의 P.S. 파트너). The film attempts to take a more contemporary, and certainly more open, approach to the highly cliched genre. While the film is squarely light-entertainment, it is also a surprisingly charming rom-com. My P.S. Partner – or the frankly awful English title Whatcha Wearin’? – strives for quirky originality through the incorporation of sexual language and events, and while it never fully achieves such heights director Byun Sung-Hyun (변성현), who co-wrote the screenplay with Kim Min-soo (김민수), has crafted an enjoyable tale of love.
Depressed and lonely, musician Hyeon-seung (Ji Seong (지성) struggles to come to terms with his break-up with long-time girlfriend So-yeon (Shin So-yul (신소율). Her new rich, handsome boyfriend only compounds his melancholy further, while his friends do little to help. Yet one evening Hyeon-seung receives a surprise phone call from a woman who initiates exciting phone sex. However the call was actually a mistake, as the woman – underwear designer Yoon-jeong (Kim Ah-joong (김아중) – intended to call her boyfriend yet misdialed. Later contacting each other through drunken anger, Hyeon-seung and Yoon-jeong begin to build a relationship over the phone, one that has the potential to develop into something special.
From the outset, My P.S. Partner conveys the deep desire to be bold and contemporary as a group of friends frankly, and quite explicitly, discuss sex and relationships. The writers are clearly aware of the conventions of the genre, and make their best efforts to avoid the same pitfalls through utilising more ‘adult’ content to usher in a greater sense of realism. The approach simultaneously succeeds and fails, as while the sexual conversations are more grounded in reality than the uber-conservative innocence, the tongue-in-cheek nature and the ‘performance’ of sexual dialogue is farcical. It is, however, quite amusing and feels fresh as the friends bounce sexual jokes back and forth over drinks. Wisely after such a set-up, Hyeon-seung’s plight as a singleton is quickly established yet due to the jovial nature of the film, the depth and sincerity of his sorrow is generally undermined.
The rapid and comical pacing of the opening means that it doesn’t take long for the introduction of Yoon-jeong into the narrative which, luckily, doesn’t feel especially contrived. Her sex-call is one of the highlights of the film as Director Byun Sung-Hyun plays with the notions of sex and relationships in a postmodern fashion, with cut scenes emphasising that they are both seeking something other than what the promise of sexual fulfillment offers. This, in turn, gives heart to My P.S. Partner. Rather than boy-meets-girl, Hyeon-seung and Yoon-jeong are both in pain from relationships in different ways, which is neatly explored as a critique of contemporary relationships within Korea. Yoon-jeong desperately desires to marry a man she knows is wrong for her in order to have the fairy-tale ‘wedded bliss.’ Hyeon-seung, meanwhile, is every bit the insecure and sensitive modern man, who wishes to be with someone to assuage his loneliness. Such notions are also examined through the supporting cast, each with his/her own relationship woes that adds depth to an otherwise light-hearted rom-com.
Despite such a fun and fresh beginning, the cliches suddenly start to appear thick and fast. The narrative problems are clearly visible, as writers Byun Sung-Hyun and Kim Min-soo begin by attempting a more original and contemporary approach, before including a multitude of cliches in the second act, only to realise their mistake in the third and attempt to pull it back to the original vision. While this doesn’t necessarily make My P.S. Partner a bad film, it’s shame that the potential wasn’t carried through the entirety of the running time. Troubles arise mainly due to Hyeon-seung and Yoon-jeong deciding to meet so early, as the initial development of their relationship over the phone is conveyed through montage. In meeting, the impetus of their journey of self-discovery is somewhat diminished although there are several quite charming moments as the two become closer. Yet for every scene where the couple develop deeper emotions, such as through music, is a scene that rings hollow such as Hyeon-seung’s attempt at chivalry due to Yoon-jeong’s vicious former-colleague. However, the jovial nature of the film is infectious and even despite being aware of such conventional silliness, they cannot help but raise a smile.
A large amount of this is due to the charisma of the lead actors. As underwear designer Yoon-jeong, Kim Ah-joong is great. She exhibits the hopes and desires of the character with energetic enthusiasm, overacting which would usually be a criticism yet in this instance highlight the vulnerability of a woman lying to herself. When Yoon-jeong’s dreams are dashed, the hurt expressed by Kim Ah-jeong is keen, although the actress works hard to keep the atmosphere upbeat throughout and often succeeds. As lovelorn musician Hyeon-seung, Ji Seong is capable and endearing. While he doesn’t have the same emotional presence as his love-interest, the actor has good comic-timing and his development is enjoyable to watch. His performance of the ‘panty song’ in the highly cliched finale is highly entertaining, as well as the jokes that unfold in yet another comical critique of Korean culture.
My P.S. Partner is an entertaining and enjoyable romantic-comedy, one that employs the use of sexual language and jokes to offer a fresh approach to the genre. While it succeeds slightly more than it fails, the film is also quite charismatic due to lead actors Kim Ah-jeong and Ji Seong as the unhappy lovers. Director Byun Sung-Hyun has crafted a light-hearted tale of romance that is humorous as well as containing the odd critique of contemporary relationships in Korea, making My P.S. Partner a fun mix of the current and the cliche.