Hee-soo confronts ex-boyfriend Byeong-woo about his unpaid debt

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루) – ★★★★☆

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루)

My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루)

With his non-invasive, realism-infused vision, director Lee Yoon-ki’s (이윤기) films are wonderfully character driven as he explores the fragility and complexity of modern relationships. My Dear Enemy (멋진 하루) is very much set within such a framework, as the director subtly peels away the psychological and emotional layers of two ex-lovers who join forces for a day. With his palpable sensitivity and rejection of cliches, director Lee has crafted a poignant examination of the difficulties of early thirty-somethings in contemporary Korea, and their hopes and desires in forming lasting relationships. While the impetus wanes during the final third of the film, My Dear Enemy is an incredibly charming film bolstered by tender and captivating performances by Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jeong-woo.

 Searching high and low in a betting office, Kim Hee-soo (Jeon Do-yeon (전도연) has almost given up hope of finding ex-boyfriend Jo Byeong-woon (Ha Jeong-woo (하정우). She doesn’t wish to reconcile, however; Hee-soo wants the large sum of money she lent Byeong-woo a year ago and is determined to retrieve it. Finally locating her happy-go-lucky ex, Byeong-woo claims he doesn’t have the money but, with some effort, he can repay her by the end of the day. Afraid he will disappear as before, Hee-soo chaperones Byeong-woo as he collects the money during the course of the day, and as time passes they begin to understand each other more deeply than they thought possible.

Hee-soo confronts ex-boyfriend Byeong-woo about his unpaid debt

Hee-soo confronts ex-boyfriend Byeong-woon about his unpaid debt

Right from the start, director Lee employs his trademark opening long take to absorb the audience into the narrative, following resolute Hee-soo as she traverses a squalid gambling den in search of Byeong-woon. The technique is highly effective in constructing realism as well as provoking curiosity, so that when conflict finally occurs it feels both natural and rewarding. The initial confrontation highlights how wonderfully characterized Hee-soo and Byeong-woon are, with her determination, cynicism and anal retentiveness in stark contrast to his easygoing, considerate, and positive attitude. The differences between them give rise to the question as to why they became a couple in the first place, yet once this minor detail is overlooked what follows are incredibly compelling interactions as the former lovers converse and quarrel, coming to understand each other more clearly than ever before. As Byeong-woon is penniless himself, both he and Hee-soo travel together as he attempts to borrow funds from friends and acquaintances, placing them in a variety of situations that force the duo to re-examine their ideologies and lives. Director Lee uses each opportunity to not only interrogate his protagonists but also contemporary Korean society, and how it has shaped an entire generation now in their thirties. Given the crux of the reunion is debt, financial issues abound in conjunction with marital pressures and gender roles, each explored from an alternative perspective as additional characters are introduced. The subtle sophistication of each encounter is a real delight.

Yet My Dear Enemy is also notable for the captivating performances of A-listers Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jeong-woo. Director Lee’s distinctive sensitivity and compassion calls for a particular style and quality of acting, and the two gifted stars fulfill their roles with the utmost sincerity. Jeon Do-yeon is wonderfully cynical and stubborn as Hee-soo, exhibiting a frosty and distancing demeanor that initially makes her unlikeable. However through Byeong-woon’s positivity and kindness, as well as a re-examining  of priorities due to their shared experiences, the subtle changes that Hee-soo undergoes are deftly exuded by Jeon as she slowly softens into a more considerate person.

Hee-soo spends time with Byeong-woon's family, learning more about his past

Hee-soo spends time with Byeong-woon’s family, learning more about his past

Of the two, Ha Jeong-woo arguably has the more challenging role in portraying the down-on-his-luck yet affable Byeong-woon. His kindness and generosity convey a palpable positivity, yet it is his natural charisma that makes the character so lovable and draws people closer. The actor superbly sidesteps any potential ‘playboy’ implications by emphasising naivety as a trait which is often scorned by Hee-soo, indicating that while the former lovers are quite different their attributes actually help to make each other stronger.

While the performances and the evolving relationship are a joy to watch, the film begins to falter in the final third. Director Lee seems unsure of how to lead the protagonists through to some form of finale, and a series of missteps detract from the journey they’re on. Just as Hee-soo and Byeong-woon begin to learn from and understand one another, their development is suddenly cut short and while such scenes are occasionally romantic, they could have easily been condensed without interrupting the revelations they discover. Yet luckily the film manages to right itself during the final moments, allowing the couple to convey their fundamental changes while also not taking the easy way out. As such, My Dear Enemy a highly poignant and uplifting film, and in-keeping with the compassionate sensitivity for which director Lee is renowned.

Over the course of the day, Hee-soo's priotrities begin to change

Over the course of the day, Hee-soo’s priotrities begin to change

Verdict:

My Dear Enemy is a charming and moving slice of realism from director Lee Yoon-ki, whose trademark sensitivity and compassion are fully on display. Bolstered by wonderful performances from Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jeong-woo, the film is a sophisticated yet subtle exploration of the thirty-something generation and their relationships, as well as an interrogation of the role of Korean culture in such matters. As such, the drama is mature and sincere throughout, displaying some the best Korean filmmaking talent at their most sensitive.

★★★★☆

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The weather mirrors the emotionally fraught couple

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다) – ★★★★☆

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다)

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다)

The break-up of a relationship is an oft explored area in television, yet in film the realism of such events tends to be eschewed in favor of either a dramatic arena of affairs and/or substance abuse, or the catalyst for comical shenanigans in an attempt to cope with the loss. The financial motivations behind such decisions are understandable, given that their success is dependent on the detachment from reality and the predictable pleasures they provide. Yet, what of the relationships where the love and passion simply dissipate?

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다), literally translated as ‘I Love You, I Don’t Love You’, is a mediation on the breakdown of a couple and is a slow, thought-provoking film that poignantly conveys the emotional turmoil they experience during their final day together. The film was (rather unfairly) criticised upon release for the slow paced narrative and the lack of events therein, yet in the attempt to convey realism director Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) has produced a calm and moderated exploration that deviates from typical audience expectations.

Driving his wife Yeong-shin (Im Soo-jeong (임수정) to Gimpo Airport, Ji-seok (Hyeon Bin (현빈) engages in small talk despite the strangely tense atmosphere between them. After the conversation runs dry, Yeong-shin announces that she is leaving him and will be shortly moving out of their home. Worse still is that she has been seeing another man, a fact she accuses Ji-seok of knowing but ignoring. Bizarrely, Ji-seok appears quiet but unfazed. Days later, Yeong-shin is packing her belongings at home while Ji-seok attempts to make the dissolution of their marriage easier by making coffee, preparing dinner, and helping with the packing. As they awkwardly converse and reminisce over items, Yeong-shin and Ji-seok discover the emotional distress and difficulty in the finality of their marriage.

Yeong-shin announces to Ji-seok that she will leave him

Yeong-shin announces she will leave Ji-seok

The themes of alienation and loneliness are conveyed by director Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) with incredible sensitivity and confidence throughout Come Rain Come Shine, as he allows the tense atmosphere created by the mise-en-scene to portray the hardship the couple endure rather than relying on melodrama. This focus on realism is enhanced further by his continual use of long takes which makes the tension between the central protagonists palpable. The opening scene in which Ji-seok drives Yeong-shin to the airport is a long take approximately eight minutes in length, conveying the search for small talk and the awkward silences as features of their relationship which now lacks intimacy and spontaneity. The realism conveyed through the voyeuristic gaze makes for slightly uncomfortable viewing due to their lack of communication and the resulting tension, playing upon the audience’s expectations that a confrontation must occur to disrupt the calm yet strained atmosphere. However as the take is so long, Lee Yoon-ki lulls audience into a false sense of stability which then serves to enhance the shock of Yeong-shin’s announcement she will leave her husband for another man.

Later at the house, Yeong-shin packs her belongings ready to vacate and leave Ji-seok. The house itself is  an incredible element of the mise-en-scene due the various floors that are present, with Lee Yoon-ki utilizing it to convey how the couple are exist on different levels, drift apart, and come together. Each floor, and each room, is unique in portraying the internal conflict within both protagonists, such as Yeong-shin’s isolated higher-tiered office compared with the basement which contains memories over which they reminisce, functioning as the foundation for the house as well as their relationship. The lighting within the house is incredible as the muted tones and lack of colour drain the emotion and passion from the environment, painstakingly exemplifying the numbness within Ji-seok and Yeong-shin. In addition the torrential downpour of rain throughout conveys the sadness both within the protagonists and of the event itself, which ironically forces the couple to communicate and spend more time together as nature seemingly desires the pair try once more – a feature that Lee Yoon-ki respects audiences, whether optimistic or pessimistic, to decide for themselves.

The weather mirrors the emotionally fraught couple

The weather mirrors the emotionally fraught couple

The performances of Im Soo-jeong as Yeong-sin and Hyeon Bin as Ji-seok came under scrutiny upon the release of Come Rain Come Shine which, when taken into consideration that melodrama is enormous popular in Korea, is understandable yet unfair. Both high-profile actors are incredibly talented with a catalogue of successful films and dramas, yet Come Rain Come Shine is a drastic departure from the roles – and expectations – of their previous work. The subtlety contained within their facial expressions and mannerisms conveys the abundance of emotional turmoil contained within. Im Soo-jeong initially projects a cold and heartless persona, yet her desire for passion and love from her highly reserved husband and her reluctance to leave tenderly present themselves as the finality of their situation becomes more apparent. Hyeon Bin is also charismatic in his role as while his quiet and humble nature is continually present, the moments in which he is alone reveal the overwhelming sadness that threatens to engulf him. Despite this he feels incapable of changing the situation yet his chivalry and kindness indicate his desperation to resolve the conflict.

The multiple levels within the house are symbolic of the relationship

The multiple levels within the house are symbolic of the relationship

Verdict:

Come Rain Come Shine is a tender, thought-provoking, and sensitive portrayal of the final moments in the break-down of a marriage. Due to the slow-paced and meditative filmic style of director Lee Yoon-ki, the film will not satisfy audiences with expectations of melodrama and comedy, or an amalgamation thereof.  However, the realism conveyed through the masterful use of mise-en-scene and long takes, in conjunction with the subtle and highly poignant performances, make Come Rain Come Shine a powerful film about the tenderness of loss.

★★★★☆

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