Min-yeoung and boss Byeong-hoon observe their latest scenario

Cyrano Agency (시라노;연애조작단) – ★★★☆☆

Cyrano Agency (시라노;연애조작단)

Cyrano Agency (시라노;연애조작단)

The perils of dating have long been a feature of the romantic-comedy, perhaps portrayed more than any other area of the relationship status-quo due to the high probability of farcical foolishness that will ensue. Attempting to appear suave, beautiful, intellectual, sophisticated, rich, cultured – the possibilities are endless for misunderstandings and comedic confrontations. The Will Smith starring Hitch (2005) took an alternative approach to the tried-and-tested formula, featuring a ‘date doctor’ to help fumbling men stop self-sabotaging their amorous advances.

In Cyrano Agency (시라노;연애조작단) this premise is expanded from a solitary ‘date doctor’ to a troupe of actors, who study and research the targets of smitten clients and prepare scenarios, rehearse lines of script, and employ every romantic cliche at their disposal for a successful matchmaking  service. The name is, of course, taken from the famous play Cyrano de Bergerac, and while the idea of displaced romance is present and the film is quite charming, it suffers from misplaced melodrama, lack of depth and a finale that is incredibly bitter-sweet.

Byeong-hoon (Eom Tae-woong (엄태웅) is the head of a failed acting troupe consisting of feisty female advisor Min-yeong (Park Sin-hye (박신혜), researcher Jae-pil  (Jeon Ah-min (전아민) and chameleonic Cheol-bin  (Park Cheol-min (박철민). In order to generate money for theatre productions they create the Cyrano Agency, an organization where the actors use their talents to help lovelorn men match with the women they desire, with an impressive 99% success rate. Yet complications arise when Sang-yong (Choi Daniel (최 다니엘) arrives asking for assistance in wooing the beautiful rebellious Hee-joong (Lee Min-jeong (이민정) – the former girlfriend of Agency boss Byeong-hoon. Will Byeong-hoon put his personal feelings aside and complete the contract, or steal Hee-joong for himself?

Min-yeoung and boss Byeong-hoon observe their latest scenario

Min-yeoung and boss Byeong-hoon observe their latest scenario

One of the strengths of Cyrano Agency lies in the highly charismatic opening sequence, in which the acting troupe help to woo a barista for a client. The team train their love-stricken patron to act cool and aloof akin to romantic actors, and stage an array of cliched devices – making the the target jealous, playing soundtracks, and even employing a ‘rain machine’ for a melodramatic finale – offering a wonderfully postmodern and comedic portrayal of love. The directing and editing are highly competent during this sequence with both parties fully aware of the conventions of the romance genre, simultaneously revering the material through dramatic framing and parodying through overt melodrama. Unfortunately, after such a strong opening, Cyrano Agency falters. The whimsical tongue-in-cheek nature initially conveyed is jettisoned in favour of genuine melodrama, and the change in tone detracts from the overall enjoyment as the comedy quickly deteriorates. The premise certainly has potential, as next target Hee-joong is also the former girlfriend of boss Byeong-hoon, with his subconscious sabotage of scenarios initially humourous but quickly becoming petty. Bizarrely, the relationship – both past and present – between Byeon-hoon and Hee-joong is foreground, emphasising their intertwined destiny as they continually encounter each other and in doing so reveal the love they both still clearly share. As such, client Sang-yong is somewhat of a footnote in the proceedings and the notion that Byeong-hoon would continue to help match him with together with Hee-jong is odd at best.

Hee-joong’s role is incredibly underdeveloped and passive, merely serving to be pretty and to act as the prize in the relationship tug-of-war. Such a misogynistic representation is exacerbated by the insincerity of Sang-yong as he has fallen in love with her image, rather than her personality. This is ultimately the major failing point of Cyrano Agency, as while the narrative portrays the facade of love it never truly explores it, despite given ample opportunity when the team encounter heart-broken former clients. This leads to an incredibly bitter-sweet finale as Hee-joong, finally with knowledge of the agency and Byeong-hoon and Sang-yong’s role, makes her choice.

Hee-joong becomes the next target

Hee-joong becomes the next target/prize

The shift in focus on the love triangle from the earlier team dynamic further alters the pace and tone, relegating members of the team to almost cameo sized roles rather than supporting ones, an unfortunate choice considering their impact in the early stages. Despite this, the actors perform their roles well particularly Park Sin-hye as Min-yeong, conveying strength and passion in each scene. As Cyrano Agency becomes an unrequited love triangle, acting duties generally fall to three core performers. Eom Tae-woong is the most notable conveying his internal conflict between his own desire and his job well. Lee Min-jeong is competent as Hee-joong, although the limiting role is responsible for her restrained performance. Choi Daniel unfortunately suffers the most due to the somewhat schizophrenic nature of protagonist Sang-yong. Sang-yong flits between moment of grandiose kindness to liar, from sensitive romantic to criminal, even causing one of the team members from the Agency to comment that something is amiss with their client. The distrust and insincerity conveyed again undermine the notion that Byeong-hoon would attempt to pair Sang-yong with the woman he is seemingly destined for.

Byeong-hoon rehearses the script with client Sang-yong

Byeong-hoon rehearses the script with client Sang-yong

Verdict:

Cyrano Agency is an enjoyable take on the romantic-comedy genre, particularly the wonderful opening sequence that plays with notions of romance in a postmodernist fashion. The decision to deviate from such a winning formula is puzzling, as the focus on a love triangle and the insincerity of the love portrayed albeit not explored, detract from the pace, tone, and promise offered in the first fifteen minutes. That said, fans of the genre will no doubt be appeased by what Cyrano Agency offers, although many will be perplexed by the bitter-sweet nature of the finale.

★★★☆☆

Advertisements
Reviews
Byeong-woo's ambition makes him a hot property

Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들) – ★★★☆☆

Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들)

Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들)

South Korea has the unfortunate statistic of having the highest suicide rate among all 30 OECD countries. Over forty people a day take their own lives, and the reasons behind such tragedy are complex to say the least. As such, suicide often features within Korean films although it tends to occur organically in the narrative,  due to mistreatment or illness for example. Enter Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들), a film that places the intentions of suicide as the central concept of the narrative. Bizarrely, Suicide Forecast promotes itself as a comedic exploration of the macabre subject matter, yet in reality it’s more of a dramatic foray. While examining the oft-ignored subject of suicide through film is to be commended, the rather superficial nature of the narrative renders Suicide Forecast somewhat impotent.

Bae Byeong-woo (Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) is a retired professional baseball player, now working in the world of insurance. He is ambitious and driven, yet his constant desire for money upsets his girlfriend Lee Hye-in (Seo Ji-hye (서지혜) resulting in a break-up. Simultaneously, Byeong-woo is accused of helping a client commit suicide and fraudulently claim life insurance through exploiting a loophole in the contract. As he reminisces about his position in life, Byeong-woo recalls that two years prior he, in order to become the best salesperson, sold life insurance policies to four suicide survivors. According to the contract, should they die within two years of signing the contract they will receive nothing; but with the deadline approaching, Byeon-woo must try and convince the policy holders to switch to a retirement plan or else the company will lose a fortune. Yet upon meeting his clients – unemployed divorcee Oh Sang-yeol (Park Cheol-min (박철민), widowed mother-of-four Choi Bok-soon (Jeong Seon-kyeong (정선경), poverty stricken young musician Ahn So-yeon (안소연, Younha (윤하), and Tourette’s suffering beggar Kim Yeong-tak (Im Joo-hwan (임주환) – Byeong-woo’s selfish motivations begin to change.

Byeong-woo's ambition makes him a hot property

Byeong-woo’s ambition makes him a hot property

Suicide Forecast is similar in nature to the family-friendly films of Jim Carrey, such as as Liar Liar (1997) and Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011). Ryoo Seung-beom is never as flamboyantly excessive as Carrey, but the generic career-man-learns-the-importance-of-compassion is present and as predictable as ever. Carrey however always brings charm and charisma to such roles conveying that his protagonists are never bad but misguided, features which Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) is considerably lacking in Suicide Forecast to the point of being incredibly unlikeable. Byeong-woo may well be the top salesperson but his arrogant, selfish, inconsiderate and disrespectful manner are difficult to ignore. The premise is sound and has plenty of potential – that a man fixated by consumerism must seek out and stop those intent on suicide, learning something in the process – yet it takes a long long time before Byeong-woo’s character remotely alters due to the plodding second act. His clients are all interesting and compelling protagonists, each with their own hardships that are conveyed poignantly but never slip into sentimentalism. It’s a real shame that these characters were not developed further than the relatively superficial portrayal of their lives, as they are the foundation upon which the narrative is formed. While the subject matter may be somewhat macabre, the narrative consistently attempts to inject light-hearted comedy moments to halt the descent into bleak territory. The jokes generally succeed although they tend to highlight further character flaws in Byeong-woo, and as such the comedy is often flat.

Byeong-woo is shocked by his client's lifestyle

Byeong-woo is shocked by his client’s lifestyle

Suicide Forecast is competently directed throughout by Jo Jin-mo, particularly in the more dramatic sequences in the third act as time runs out. It is here that the acting capabilities of all the cast are displayed, especially Ryoo Seung-beom who conveys intensity as he struggles to reach his clients in time. The predictability, and the lack of character development (and thus empathy), does slightly undermine his performance however. Additionally, Byeong-woo’s instant transformation of character from shrewd insurance salesman to compassionate friend requires something of a leap in disbelief considering his earlier behaviour. Despite the cliches, the finale is touching with the moral message that – given a chance and encouragement – those suffering from the hardships of life can shine. It must also be noted however that the bizarre incorporation of Byeong-woo’s former career as a professional baseball player is forcibly shoehorned into the film, and serves to dramatically detract from the core plot.

Byeong-woo races against time to save his clients

Byeong-woo races against time to save his clients

Verdict:

For tackling such an important and delicate issue within Korean culture, Suicide Forecast must be commended. The potential of a comedy-drama exploring such themes is enormous, which perhaps explains why the narrative appears to be intimidated by the subject matter and the ‘comedy’ aspect tends to fail. The suicidal client’s are compelling despite their general lack of depth, and the predictable finale is still heart-warming. Suicide Forecast is an interesting take on a pertinent and often ill-judged element of society that, while cliched and predictable, offers a poignant reminder that greed and consumerism does not equate to happiness.

★★★☆☆

Reviews
Cha Hae-joon (차해준) faces off against the monster

Sector 7 (7광구) – ★☆☆☆☆

Sector 7 (7광구)

Sector 7 (7광구)

When Sector 7 (7광구) was announced, it came with a wave of anticipation. It had a blockbuster story that resembled Hollywood fare, guaranteeing a foreign market; it had assembled some of the most popular actors in the country, including hot property Ha Ji-won (하지원) also known as ‘the Korean Angelina Jolie’; and it was to be filmed in 3D, insinuating the high level of confidence film executives had in the project.

The story, about workers on an oil rig that come face to face with a monster, had more than a few similarities with Ridley Scott’s classic Alien (1979) and had cinephiles wondering if it could compete in Hollywood and reignite international attention in Korean cinema. To be fair, the expectations were so ridiculously high that any film would have fallen short. But no-one was prepared for just how far short, and how awful, Sector 7 truly is.

On an isolated oil rig off the coast of Jeju Island, the crew are experiencing difficulties as there is no oil to be found. The supervisor (Park Jeong-hak (박정학), wants to abandon the search but is repeatedly challenged by team member Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won (하지원) for his cowardice. That is, until senior official Jeong-man (Ahn Seong-gi (안성기) returns to the rig and demands the search continues until an oil well is found; yet once their objective has been achieved, members of the crew are found dead. As the crew attempt to find the murderer, the come face-to-face with a monster from the depths of the ocean.

Cha Hae-joon (차해준, Ha Ji-won (하지원) searches for the unseen killer

Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won) searches for the unseen killer

The narrative itself is not an inherently bad premise, yet director Kim Ji-hoon (김지훈) continually pushes audiences’ suspension of disbelief well beyond their limits. For example, motorcycle drag racing on an oil rig appears to be a commonplace activity on this particular rig, as does the bizarre mixture of futuristic and archaic technology within it. The absurdity is not helped by the use of terrible CGI and green screen that seriously detracts an sense of logic to the proceedings. The worst is saved for the monster itself, an unbelievably poor creation that appears like a reject from a Final Fantasy video game. The monster has supposedly been forcefully evolved from a smaller creature yet bares no resemblance to it whatsoever, and exhibits an entirely different set of abilities. Luckily most scenes involving the creature are at night and in shadows, yet even then the lackluster design, movement, skin texture and so on are obviously apparent. This is all the more baffling when considering Bong Joon-ho‘s incredible monster film The Host was made 5 years earlier.

The crew must fight to survive the new menace

The crew must fight to survive the new menace

The actors portraying the tyrannized protagonists are also unimpressive, although they cannot be held fully accountable as the dialogue is woeful. Ha Ji-won is usually an actress that guarantees quality, yet even she provides an under-par performance as she schizophrenically flits from cute airhead to hardened independent woman. Her love interest played by Oh Ji-ho (as Kim Dong-soo (김동수) is so under-represented that he hardly warrants being in the film, let alone providing adequate interest as the source of her affections. Duo Park Cheol-min (박철민) and Song Sae-byeok (송새벽) are intended to add comedy to the mix however become so irritating that it’s something of a relief when they meet their demise. Park Cheol-min in particular shouts his way through his dialogue, while his compatriot merely whines. The less said about Park Yeong-soo’s (박영수) mentally ill crew member Jang Chi-soon the better. Only Ahn Seong-gi as senior crew member Jeong-man conveys credibility through his quiet-albeit-authoritative tones, yet he too succumbs to the oddities in the narrative when his supposedly true nature is revealed.

Cha Hae-joon (차해준) faces off against the monster

Cha Hae-joon faces off against the monster

Verdict:

Sector 7 is not a complete disaster, as director Kim Ji-hoon competently composes scenes and keeps the action moving at a swift pace. Apart from the awful CGI it’s clear that Sector 7 has a large budget which has been well spent on creating the mise-en-scene of an oil rig. It’s a shame that so many negative features outweigh the few scant positives, rendering a potential blockbuster into a substandard film well below the talents of all involved.

★☆☆☆☆

Reviews