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Singles
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Uhm Jung-Hwa (top) and Jang Jin-Young (bottom).
 
Korean: 싱글즈
Year: 2003  
Director: Kwon Chil-In  
  Producer: Cha Seung-Jae, No Jong-Yun
  Cast: Jang Jin-Young, Lee Bum-Su, Uhm Jeong-Hwa, Kim Ju-Hyeok, O Ji-Hye, Song Jae-Ho, Han Ji-Hye (cameo)
  The Skinny: Light, amusing, and oddly charming, Singles follows the lives of four individuals struggling with the demands of single life and impending adulthood in contemporary Korea. The surprise box office hit of 2003.
 
Review by Calvin McMillin:

Four glossily attractive folks try to cope with the rigors of modern life in Singles, the hit 2003 romantic comedy from director Kwon Chil-In. Although it features an ensemble cast, the film centers on Na Nan, a mousy, girl-next-door type played by the cute-as-a-button Jang Jin-Young (of The Foul King and Sorum). On the verge of her thirtieth birthday, Na Nan watches helplessly as her life takes a dramatic downturn. In a puzzling twist of fate, she gets demoted from her position as a designer and gets reassigned to - get this - a crap job at a Chili's restaurant. Who knew that Chili's manager was the bottom rung on the corporate ladder? Things don't get much better when Na Nan's boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her, a move that leaves the pixyish heroine a complete emotional wreck in the process.

Luckily, she's got a couple friends who'll listen to her problems. First, there's her best gal pal Dong Mi (Uhm Jeong-Hwa of Marriage is a Crazy Thing), a serial dater who's also looking for love and isn't afraid to give Na Nan a piece of her mind in regard to her views on love, life, and relationships. Dong Mi lives with her platonic male roommate Jeong Joon (Lee Bum-Su of Wet Dreams), and the two share a classic love-hate relationship. They bicker like an old married couple, a fact that should signal to even the most naïve audience that sparks are about to fly between the two. But Jeong Joon also has problems of his own. He's fallen completely in love with his young girlfriend (Han Ji-Hye in a quick cameo) whose cutesy demeanor masks a more venomous persona. Dong Mi tries to warn Jeong Joon about her, but he won't listen. Jeong Joon is too nice guy, and nice guys in these situations tend to get hurt. Jeong Joon is no exception. The fallout of this relationship will have dramatic consequences for the two once-platonic roommates, as they finally succumb to the feelings that have been bubbling under the surface for a long time.

Meanwhile, Na Nan's dire job and boyfriend situation attracts the attention of Su Hyeon (Kim Ju-Hyeok), a blankly good-looking, all-around nice guy who's obviously got a crush on our leading lady. Although she seems to rebuff his every attempt, Su Hyeon, in his own weird way, tries his best to win Na Nan's heart. After some effort, he seems to succeed and summarily offers Na Nan everything she's ever wanted: marriage, a stable future, and a chance to study fashion in New York. But is that what Na Nan really wants? Or does she want to grab her future on her own terms? And how will Dong Mi and Jeong Joon deal with the consequences of their one night of passion?

The way the narrative ultimately answers these questions is unconventional to be sure, but not entirely unexpected. This breaking of formula should appeal to viewers who don't necessarily need or want everything tied up neatly by story's end. But those looking for a sense of definitive closure may be a little disappointed. Even so, Singles seems to be a film that tries, in its own way, to be different than the rest of the pack. Although not as overt in its mocking as the hilarious romantic comedy 2004's Someone Special would later prove to be, Singles gets some mileage out of parodying certain conventions prevalent in Korean melodramas. In many ways, it's not just these specific references, but what the film doesn't resort to using in telling its tale that makes it an effective commentary on the falsity of resolution in some romances, Korean or otherwise. Although the film is certainly plotted, there's the sense that it's trying to provide "a slice of life" in presenting its tale of four very different, but connected souls. The movie's open-endedness suggests that there's still more of the story to be told and that whatever the protagonists have decided, there's no guarantee that everything will work out - much like what happens in real life. We live with the choices we make and simply do the best we can.

Although the film possesses a seeming double plot, the relationship between Na Nan and Su Hyeon takes precedence over the intriguing turn of events that occurs between Dong Mi and Jeong Joon. This is an unfortunate storytelling decision, if for no other reason than the roommates' storyline is infinitely more compelling than the other couple's romance. Lee Bum-Su and Uhm Jung-Hwa share a winning chemistry, and their fateful one-night stand is handled with a surprising maturity and wit, although the resolution of their storyline leaves something to be desired. It's clear what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish; it's just a shame to see that a character is ultimately left in the dark about some very important things. The film's implicit open-endedness along with the fact that two propose to remain friends leaves the door open for more interaction between the two, but sadly, that story is not present in Singles. Certainly the film would have benefited immensely from not putting so much weight on Na Nan and her fateful decision (which isn't that surprising), and split its focus more evenly among its four cast members. The film's title is Singles in the plural after all, not Single Korean Female. Even so, Jang Jin-Young proves to be an effective leading lady more than worthy of her Best Actress prize at the Blue Dragon Film Awards. Unlike many young actresses, she is able to make her character instantly lovable and charming without being overly cutesy or cloying.

But even with my complaints about the muted subplot between Dong Mi and Jeong Joon, there's a whole lot to like about Singles. Although the film examines such serious issues as love, marriage, career choices, and unplanned parenthood, Singles is by no means a sober look at urban life in Korea. In the end, it's simply a breezy little film about people who realize they've been drifting through life, and that now it's finally time to make a change. Thanks to its immensely likable cast, Singles is a charming film that - unlike a lot of the tiresome, formulaic romantic comedies out there - proves to be worthwhile viewing experience. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)

 
Notes: • Based on the Japanese novel Christmas at Twenty-Nine, by Toshio Kamata.
Awards: 24th Blue Dragon Film Awards
• Winner - Best Actress (Jang Jin-Young)
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
YA Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Teaser, Trailers, Sneak Peeks
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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