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Year: 2002 "I'm the star of Korea's version of 'The Bachelor'!"
Lee Yo-Won, Shin Ha-Kyun and Kim Min-Hee
Director: Kim Jin-Sung
Cast: Shin Ha-Kyun, Lee Yo-Won, Kim Min-Hee, Kong Jyung-Hin, Kong Hyo-Jin, Kim Hak-Chul
The Skinny: Fluffy Korean romantic comedy echoes Hollywood with its glossy appearance and sometimes-trying contrivances. Still, lead performers Shin Ha-Kyun and Lee Yo-Won have good chemistry and the production is well-made and pleasant. Not bad for romantic comedy fodder, though it isn't much of a step up from your standard Sandra Bullock vehicles.
by Kozo:
     Contrived romantic comedy is the name of the game in Surprise, an amiable fluff-fest which begs the question: is it okay to fall for my best pal's boyfriend? Director Kim Jin-Sung's film is ultra-light and not for the highly demanding, but fans of actors Shin Ha-Kyun (Guns and Talks) and Lee Yo-Won (Take Care of My Cat) will likely be charmed. The rest of us will just have to get by with pretty people and routine romantic comedy devices.
     Ha-Young (Lee Yo-Won) has been charged with an unenviable task: she must distract the boyfriend of best pal Mi-Ryung (Kim Min-Hee) from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. He's arriving at the airport early, but Mi-Ryung needs the extra time to convince her father (Kim Hak-Chul) to give way to their planned marriage and accompanying surprise birthday party. The boyfriend, Jung-Woo (Shin Ha-Kyun) is half-Hawaiian, which angers Pop. Ha-Young needs to keep Jung-Woo busy, but can't let on why or she'll give away the surprise of the surprise party, thus rendering it just a regular party and not the intended surprise one. Got it?
     The task is harder than it seems, though. Since she can't give away her identity, Ha-Young basically has to keep a complete stranger at her side for the better part of a day — and not appear like a crazed stalker in the process. She's partially successful; while Ha-Young seems too harmless to engage in kidnapping and exortion, she does go to some heavy extremes to keep Jung-Woo occupied. Any normal person would probably give such creepy behavior the heave-ho, but Jung-Woo is an incredibly good sport. Even more, the two find some semblance of attraction, which leads to the big conflict: date my best pal's boyfriend or not? It's like something you'd see on Friends.
     The setup and extenuating circumstances for Surprise are far-fetched and overdrawn by even Hollywood standards. The filmmakers work overtime to get the two would-be lovebirds stuck together, and go even farther to resolve everything in a nice, neat and overly happy way. How charmed you are by the film could depend on your tolerance for such romantic comedy devices. Are they winning and romantic situations which charm in that "Aw, shucks" way? Or is it just fake and manufactured crap made to create unnecessary romantic conflict? And do we even care?
     Well, the actors make things somewhat enjoyable. Their performances aren't world-beating amazing, but Shin Ha-Kyun and Lee Yo-Won have good chemistry, and play off one another very well. Lee is a fine romantic comedy lead, and manages to make Ha-Young charming and likable despite her near-stalker behavior. If we're meant to believe that Jung-Woo would find a nutty girl like Ha-Young instantly winning, then mission accomplished. Surprise suceeds at matching likable actors to the lead roles, which is half the battle for a romantic comedy.
     The other half of the battle are the plot and circumstances, and in that Surprise proves plodding and not terribly inspired. Mistaken identity, screwy ex-boyfriends, and cell phone hijinks are substituted for actual screenwriting, and the twists and turns we're subjected to aren't very exciting. In the end, all we have to hang on are the photogenic ability of the main stars (third wheel Kim Min-Hee is an attractive, but not compelling actress) and the occasional moment of charm. Lee Yo-Won and Shin Ha-Kyun provide the latter with appreciable regularity, and fans of either will probably riot with happiness. The film's utter weightlessness could annoy more critical audiences, but the undemanding moviegoer will likely go home pleased. (Kozo 2002)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition w/ CD Soundtrack
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Director Commentary, Trailers, and more
image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen