November 30th, 2010
Jung Jae-Young and Lee Na-Young in Someone Special
The phrase “A Woman I Know” is the direct translation of the title of a Korean film known more commonly under its official English moniker, Someone Special. Not only that, these words end up becoming a key piece of dialogue spoken a couple times in the film, culminating in a sort of tipping point for the onscreen relationship between our two main characters. But let’s back up a second; I’m getting ahead of myself here.
I first saw Someone Special at the Doris Duke Theatre in Hawai’i sometime in 2005, I believe, as a part of a locally-run Korean Film Festival. I didn’t know what to expect going into the screening, but when I came out, I was all smiles. Of all the Korean films I’ve seen, Someone Special ranks as one of my sentimental favorites.
The film begins with an idyllic scene in which a presumably happy couple walk hand-in-hand through the park. If the voiceover is to be believed, the two of them are most certainly about to proclaim their undying love for one another. But to the surprise of our hero, Dong Chi-Sung (Jung Jae-Young), his girlfriend is less than pleased with how their relationship is going. She casually and quite abruptly dumps him. In retaliation, Chi-Sung erupts in that completely mental way that only Korean men can do, giving us a meltdown scene that is too hilarious to describe in words.
When things calm down, Chi-Sung returns to his dayjob as a broken man. Although he was once an up-and-coming phenom as a pitcher, he’s been relegated of late to playing the outfield for his current minor league baseball team. Without spoiling the film, let’s just say that Chi-Sung’s love problems end up costing his team big time.
But that’s not all! When Chi-Sung visits his doctor for a checkup, he gets the worst kind of news. It turns out those frequent nosebleeds he’s been suffering from are connected to a much bigger problem: Chi-Sung has a malignant tumor that has spread so rapidly that the doctor estimates he only has a few months left to live. A loser in love, work, and now life? Talk about “three strikes and you’re out.” This would be getting damn depressing, if not for the light comic touch of director Jang Jin.
In any event, devastated by this latest tragic turn of events, Chi-Sung, a purported teetotaler ends up at a local watering hole and gets horribly drunk after only a few beers. It’s up to the cute bartender, Yi-Yeon (Lee Na-Young) to take care of him, and the two of them end up in what I can only presume is a Korean variation on a love hotel to sleep it off. Nothing happens between the two, except for a little conversation. But Yi-Yeon’s behavior begs the question: why exactly would a petite young woman who seemingly has no connection to Chi-Sung be tasked with taking care of him?
Well, without giving things totally away, it seems Yi-Yeon has loved Chi-Sung from afar for many years, but has been too shy to say or do anything about it. But now fate has put her childhood crush right in her path, and she’s determined to capitalize on this opportunity, finding ways to convince Chi-Sung to hang out with her. Little does she know that her beloved’s days are numbered.
While Yi-Yeon’s feelings are pretty clear from the get-go, Chi-Sung is a bit more enigmatic — partly due to his stoic, uncommunicative exterior and partly due to the fact that he has bigger things on his mind. Ironically enough, the coaches on the baseball team decide to give him a chance to return to pitcher, a switch that might even give him a shot at the majors. Of course, this is both a blessing and a curse, as Chi-Sung has little time left to make good on this incredible opportunity. So what if he gets called up to the majors? He’ll be dead before long.
Meanwhile, Chi-Sung isn’t exactly going all Last Holiday on life, but he is taking some big chances. To wit, he takes out a huge second mortgage on his house, faces down a team of armed bankrobbers, provides aid and comfort to a down-on-his-luck neighborhood thief, and even gets fingered in a homicide case that has a curious, if purely tangential connection to Chi-Sung’s life. Now wanted for both robbery and murder, he decides to take refuge at Yi-Yeon’s house, and the two grow closer. But when Chi-Sung passes out with a nosebleed, Yi-Yeon rushes him to the hospital and learns about her would-be boyfriend’s shocking secret — a truth even Chi-Sung doesn’t know! The results are equally hilarious and touching, as Someone Special proves to be one of the better romantic comedies I’ve seen — in any country, for that matter.
For starters, Jung Jae-Young makes for a likable protagonist. He’s not a slight pretty boy or plastic surgery-faced idol, which makes him the perfect guy to play a tough guy athlete with deadpan delivery and a penchant for voiceover narration. I was with the guy from start to finish, really rooting for the guy to make good use of the time he had left.
The real star of the film, however, is Lee Na-Young. Sure, her character is a bit hard to buy at face value. She’s supposed to be a plain Jane, but even Ray Charles could see that under that greasy, unwashed hair, that frumpy clothing, and that slightly wan complexion lurks a real beauty, both inside and out. To her credit, Lee Na-Young makes her character seem believably shy, dorky, and introverted for you to ultimately buy into the film’s professed narrative, but let’s be real here: Yi-Yeon, like Faye Wong in Chungking Express, Audrey Tatou in Amelie, and every other pretty, sweet, but slightly stalker-ish female character in film history, is a product of a pretty much every straight man’s fantasy. I’m not saying that these girls don’t exist; all I’m saying is that these movie provide ample evidence that we desperately need and want them to exist. Of course, if the genders were reversed, we might feel a bit different about the male equivalent to a Yi-Yeon.
Anyway, let me just close things out by saying that Someone Special is a low-key, clever film that keeps the audience on its toes with its offbeat moments, genre parodies, and thoroughly deadpan comic delivery. I love the fact that it takes the subgenre of the “Terminal Illness Tearjerker” and not only mines laughs out of it, but turns it completely on its head for a satisfying hour-and-a-half-plus of quality entertainment. It’s not the best Korean movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly something special.
Be sure to check out Kozo’s review on the main site for more information. There’s also the embedded trailer, which includes a scene that is not, but I wish was, in the actual film. Whether this is an outtake or a sequence shot especially for the trailer, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s a lot of fun and gives you a sense of the film’s tone. One caveat: the inclusion of the film’s “action sequences” in the teaser are slightly misleading; they’re mostly played for laughs in the finished film, but you’ll have to see for yourself to know just how they are incorporated.