has the unenviable position of being actor Cha Tae-Hyun's
follow-up film to the enormously popular My Sassy
Girl. A certifiable Korean blockbuster, My
Sassy Girl also won worldwide fan acclaim and
an upcoming Hollywood remake. The same is not true
for Lover's Concerto, which has reportedly
zero Hollywood suits lining up for remake rights.
It isn't hard to fathom why; the film is a reasonably
entertaining romantic drama, but it really offers
nothing terribly new to its treacly genre.
Cha stars as Ji-Hwan,
a young man who five years ago entered into a close
friendship with not one, but two comely young things.
One is Soo-In (Son Ye-Jin), who has long black hair,
and is quiet and reserved. Kyung-Hee (Lee Eun-Joo)
is Soo-In's polar opposite: energetic, sometimes rude,
and infinitely more cheery than Soo-In. However, Ji-Hwan
is smitten by Soo-In and declares his love immediately.
The direct approach doesn't get the desired response
(Kyung-Hee is amused, and Soo-In creeped out), but
thanks to the timely use of a clock and some sappy
metaphor, Ji-Hwan gets his chance. He turns back the
hands of the clock and asks the girls to forget what
just happened. "If we meet again," he says,
"Let's meet as friends."
Well, he gets his shot.
The girls show up at his workplace one day, and the
three become inseparable pals. Slowly but surely,
the three "fall in love", though the exact
pairing off is hard to ascertain. Their closeness
is certainly touching, and Ji-Hwan seems to respect
both women equally, but who will be left out? And
how will the "other girl" feel? And what
the heck is Ji-Hwan doing now without either of them?
It's a dilemma worthy of a ninety minute movie.
Since the film is told
from a murky point five years hence, the threesome's
cloyingly touching courtship has a decidedly bittersweet
edge. The flashback obviously doesn't end happily
ever after, and midway through, the film settles firmly
into melodrama. To borrow a phrase from many a Hong
Kong film review, IT ALL GOES TO HELL. The deepening
of their relationships leads to the inevitable tension
in their friendship, but there's a bigger problem:
Soo-In has a terminal disease, which rears its ugly
head long before the film concludes. In the end, the
film's biggest mystery is what exactly happened to
make things the way they are. And now, five years
later, can Ji-Hwan somehow repair things?
The film possesses some
minor narrative surprises which may or may work for
you. It all depends on how much you expect narrative
surprises, which are actually quite common in Korean
romances. Many will likely be affected, but others
may find it annoying as the twists seem more manufactured
than anything else. The viewer gets pulled along in
whatever direction by virtue of misinformation; that
hardly seems like the stuff of fine filmmaking. Twists
are great for mysteries. Lover's Concerto is
not a mystery.
Furthermore, there are
lots of manufactured moments, like the reciting of
sappy movie lines or how the characters fondly touch
each other's faces. It's supposed to be touching,
but when it happens for the tenth time, it seems more
than a little syrupy. Unfortunately, this preponderance
of drippy melodrama is not offset by the genuinely
surprising character and humor of My Sassy Girl,
or even the utter lightness of Surprise Party.
This is supposed to be heavy stuff. Heck, it is heavy
stuff. It's just rather pedestrian and uninspired.
At the same time, director
Lee Han handles the script well. The situations are
certainly primed for tears, and the actors are winning
enough to make us care. Lee Eun-Joo delivers a charismatic
performance as Kyung-Hee, and displays a remarkable
range. Cha Tae-Hyun is likable and affecting as Ji-Hwan,
and Son Ye-Jin fits her character extremely well.
The overused plot may not seem new, but the dead-on
casting and affecting performances work wonders. The
actors make up for the fact that the film leans too
heavily on its tragic storyline, and uses devices
instead of characters to truly affect us. This is
already a more-than-adequate romantic drama, but had
the film possessed a more inspired story, it could
have been truly exceptional. (Kozo 2003)