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Seong Ji-Roo (left) and Jeong Woong-In (right) face off in Santamaria.
Korean: 잘못된 만남
Year: 2008  
Director: Jeong Young-Bae  

Park Hye-Kyung


Jeong Woong-In, Seong Ji-Roo, Choi Ji-Yeon, Kim Jeong-Nan, Yeo Jin-Goo, Choi Jong-Won, Park Hyeon-Soo, Choi Woo-Hyuk

  The Skinny: Santamaria is director Jeong Young Bae's second film in two months, and is a significant improvement over his previous film Cherry Tomato. But it also nearly sinks due to its overwrought melodrama and attempts at emotions.
Kevin Ma:
The practice of a director making several films a year is generally accepted in Hong Kong, where films are made fast and cheap by directors who constantly direct in order to make ends meet. However, it's hard to believe that Korean director Jeong Young-Bae (or any Korean director, for that matter) can manage to have two movies released within two months of each other. This is particularly shocking considering that his first work, Cherry Tomato, was a well intentioned, but emotionally manipulative comedy-drama that flopped at the box office. Fortunately for Jeong, Santamaria has a broader commercial appeal than his directorial debut, thanks to its lead actors and its potential for comedy gold. Fortunately for us, it's also a better film.

This time, Jeong tells the story of a feud between two childhood friends that is reignited when one of them, big-time Seoul homicide detective Il-Do (Jeong Woong-In), decides to return to his hometown with his son to be a traffic cop. His first encounter in town is with reckless taxi driver Ho-Cheol (Seong-Ji Roo), an old friend from his teen years. The two men have a complicated and bitter past; they were best friends until they became romantic rivals, and Il-Do won the heart of the girl they both loved, causing Ho-Cheol to undergo a mental breakdown. So when Ho-Cheol became Il-Do's superior officer in the army a few years later, he took every chance to make Il-Do's life miserable. Over a decade later, the two men take no time to reignite their hatred for one another, with Il-Do constantly targeting Ho-Cheol's taxi and showing up conveniently every time it breaks a traffic law.

Even though Jeong brings nothing new to the table of such genre comedies, the two men's feud easily makes for the most amusing parts of the film; both men have their reasons to hate the other, giving the audience a reason to laugh at their every victory and defeat while sympathizing with them at the same time. However, writer Park Hye-Kyung quickly pushes the feud aside as he introduces the obligatory gangsters, who are in town after Il-Do and the debt he left behind. Santamaria quickly derails at that point, as it slowly turns from a feud comedy into another melodrama with illness, brutal fights, and lots of tears. The film then slowly limps through its second half as the two men try to work out their difference and learn the true value of friendship. Kind of.

The good news is that Jeong's humor is actually well-integrated into the movie this time around. In Cherry Tomato, the director inserted too much misplaced toilet humor into a bittersweet story of poverty, often undermining the serious subject matter. This time, Jeong is working with a story full of comic potential, and he makes use of it whenever he can. He even tries his best to tell the story with stylistic visual flair, especially during a surprisingly impressive fight sequence in the middle of the film. However, whether it belongs in the film or not is another story entirely.

Helping matters slightly are Jeong's two lead actors. Jeong Woon-In plays it straight this time as the tough-guy policeman and carries the film competently, while the plump Seong Ji-Roo's overacting borders on annoying. However, the two make a fun pair of love-and-hate friends when they're together, and should be the central focus on the film. However, the usual melodramatic touch of death sinks the film and any comic energy the actors established from the start.

Instead, the film benefits from some of its supporting characters. Kim Jeong-Nan sports an unglamorous curly hairdo as Ho-Cheol's neglected wife Yang-Ja, who grows jealous after hearing that Ho-Cheol fell into madness after losing the love of his life. Even though she's relegated in the background for over half the film, she ends up being the most sympathetic character. Meanwhile, Jeong proves his talent in working with young actors again; as Il-Do's son, Yeo Jin-Goo gives an exceptional performance without resorting to acting cute as a substitution for real performing skills.

As was the case in Cherry Tomato, Jeong's biggest problem as a director is his inability to give his films a consistent tone. From the plot description and Jeong's choice of actors, Santamaria should play like a genre comedy the whole way through. However, Jeong concentrates his strength on the emotional scenes, dragging the film out with tears and leaving the comedy behind. Of course, overacting can sometimes suggest that the director may be playing it for laughs. However, the use of swelling emotional music seems to suggest that it's all supposed to be taken seriously, though the melodrama isn't particular touching or involving. Just two months earlier, I called Cherry Tomato an "admirable" film that was not exactly a step in the right direction. Now I can finally call Santamaria a step in the right direction for Jeong as a director - even though the step isn't necessarily a very big one. (Kevin Ma, 2008)


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Taewon Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Korean and English Subtitles
Various Extras

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image credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen