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Love Phobia

Cho Seung-Woo and Kang Hye-Jung

도마뱀 한정판

Year: 2006  
Director: Kang Ji-Eun  
  Cast: Kang Hye-Jung, Cho Seung-Woo, Kang Shin-Il, Park Geong-Tae, Byeon Joo-Yon
  The Skinny: This offbeat romantic comedy is enlivened considerably by the star power of its two leads, real-life couple Kang Hye-Jung and Cho Seung-Woo. Although the film veers into serious territory after a playful lead-in, it's an enjoyable, if slightly nutty date flick.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

"Pure Love" is a concept that gets a great deal of play in the movies, and Korean cinema may just be the most frequent purveyor of it these days. Although such a focus can sometimes result in schmaltzy movies with unrealistically or annoyingly chaste lovers (to protect the squeaky clean images of its stars, no doubt), "Pure Love", as it is explored in Kang Ji-Eun's offbeat rom-com/drama Love Phobia, actually works. Formula isn't always bad, especially in the hands of an expert.

In this decades-spanning tale, two childhood friends embark on a hit-and-miss love affair as adults: they're both crazy about each other, but the girl in question has a strange knack for disappearing. The film begins one sunny day with young Cha Jo-Kang (child actor Park Geon-Tae) riding on the back of his father's bicycle. As father and son ride and sing, Jo-Kang spots a young girl in a yellow raincoat, Lee Ari (Byeon Joo Yon), and is immediately smitten. Later, Ari shows up at Jo-Kang's school and she's dressed in the same yellow raincoat he saw earlier, only this time she's accompanied by her pet lizard.

Upon introduction, Ari proves to be a bit of an eccentric, claiming with a straight face to be a princess from the planet Epsilon. Furthermore, she's been cursed: anyone who touches her is sure to suffer some sort of harm. The raincoat, it seems, is purely a safety precaution. Of course, her sensational story immediately scares the bejeezus out of her more impressionable classmates, save Jo-Kang, who is eager to befriend her. The two quickly become the best of pals, but when Jo-Kang falls ill with a case of the measles, Ari seemingly blames herself and withdraws from school. After that, Jo-Kang can't seem to get in touch with her, and before too long, his family leaves the village and moves to Seoul.

Flash forward ten years later, and the high school-aged Jo-Kang (now played by Marathon's Cho Seung-Woo) still hasn't stopped thinking about Ari. Luckily, she calls him out of the blue to offer him a tutoring session. In the intervening years, she has matured into a beautiful young woman (Kang Hye-Jung, from Old Boy and Welcome to Dongmakgol), and he into a handsome young man. But as times change, Ari's belief in aliens and her curse remains the same. Still, in their reunion, the two eventually find themselves embarking on a tender, funny romance that culminates in a kiss. But just as before, Jo-Kang gets sick - this time with a bad case of the flu - and once more, Ari disappears from his life.

Eight more years pass, and Jo-Kang is still haunted by her memory. After hiring a private eye, who is unsuccessful at tracking her down, he's at a loss at what to do. Should he move on? Or hold out hope for another reunion? But wouldn't you know it? The elfin-like Ari walks right back into his life at the opportune time. She still speaks of aliens, spaceships, and curses, just as she did before. And she's still prone to the occasional disappearing act. But this time, Jo-Kang won't be deterred. He loves her, and he's sure that she loves him, so what's the deal? Are her stories of aliens true? Is Ari simply a compulsive liar? Or do her tall tales mask a deeper secret? Jo-Kang will soon learn that the truth is far more tragic than he might imagine.

While there's plenty of talk of E.T.s and crop circles, Love Phobia leans less toward out-and-out sci-fi and more towards realistic drama throughout the majority of its running time. Things take a very, very serious turn towards the film's final act, one that avid viewers of Korean cinema won't exactly be shocked by. But what's even more surprising is how the film eventually ends, a storytelling decision that some viewers may have trouble going along with, despite having been prepared for it all along.

Whatever the case, I suspect that most viewers would be more than happy to take that plunge based solely on the charm of the film's leads, real-life couple Cho Seung-Woo and Kang Hye-Jung. Not only are they both intensely likeable actors, but the two of them give their respective roles a texture and a weight that prevent their characters from coming across as generic character types. In fact, the filmmakers' willingness to allow its main characters to simply play around in a delightfully aimless way early on is a testament to their faith in Cho and Kang as actors, and thankfully, the two deliver in spades.

While this is certainly a melodrama not too far removed from the kinds we've seen time and again in Korean cinema and television, Love Phobia has enough humor and plot innovation to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. Thanks to solid performances from its two leads, Love Phobia is an involving, cute, if slightly little nutty date movie. Fans of Cho Seung-Woo and Kang Hye-Jung will not be disappointed. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)

Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Art Service
2-Disc Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen