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Star-studded `Sad Movie` not so sad

When a reporter bluntly said "Sad Movie" was "not sad enough," many eyebrows were raised at the news conference following a press preview Tuesday. Director Kwon Jong-gwan and top actors seemed embarrassed. Sadly enough, however, it`s a hard-to-counter argument: the omnibus-style melodrama is not so sad.
But it`s too early to entirely discount "Sad Movie," a second film of director Kwon who garnered positive reviews with his debut feature "S Diary." After all, the film has pulled off a feat of putting together seven of the country`s top-rated actors. This is remarkable, not least considering that the continuing boom of the Korean movie industry has made it hard for directors to recruit even one or two heavyweight actors for their projects.
Just think about a movie in which Jung Woo-sung, one of Korea`s heartthrobs with a winning smile, Cha Tae-hyun, the very guy who sparked the Korea Wave with "My Sassy Girl," and rising female stars like Im Su-jeong and Shin Min-ah are working together. Even veteran actress Yeom Jeong-ah pitches in. Truly, it`s a star-studded cast that will likely make other directors envious.

But the virtue of the film ends just there. As the simple yet symbolic title suggests, the movie is chiefly intended to make viewers cry. During the autumn season, Korean cinema is usually awash with such outright tear-jerking melodramas. "Sad Movie," however, has too many characters, too many disparate stories and not enough dramatic elements that could strike a chord with the sentimental audiences who are more than willing to cry out loud.
In the film, four loosely connected episodes trudge along simultaneously. Firefighter Jin-woo (Jung Woo-sung) is dating a sign-language interpreter Su-jeong (Im Su-jeong), whose younger sister Su-eun (Shin Min-ah) cannot speak. But Su-eun is cheerful, and has a crush on a street portrait painter Sang-gyu (Lee Ki-woo). Ha-seok (Cha Tae-hyun) wants to be a real boxer but has yet to win any game; his girlfriend Suk-hyeon (Son Tae-young), a discount store cashier, thinks Ha-seok`s obscure future is hopeless. Ju-young (Yeom Jeong-ah) is a working mother, but she`s too busy to take care of her lonely son Hui-chan (Yeo Jin-gu).
The key dots that connect the four different stories are the family relations that put together the two sisters, and Cha`s newfound telegram job of telling people that their loved ones want to break up for various reasons. But even a generous viewer might wonder why the four stories should be squeezed into a single film. Why not just focus on one?
Of course, the underlying assumption is that relationships take many forms, and each unique story also has a universal element that inevitably reflects the multifarious nature of human behavior.
The boxer-cashier story, for instance, is unique in its own right. Ha-seok does not have much hope to become a successful boxer but he`s internet-savvy and resourceful. He starts a new business when his girlfriend complains about their abysmal situation: during the three years of their relationship, she says, nothing has changed and they remain at the lower end of the social hierarchy, with little money to spend.
Ha-seok`s job is to receive requests from people on the internet and personally deliver the break-up message to their erstwhile partners. In the process, he gets beaten up and screamed at. But he believes it`s alright since making money for his girlfriend is much more important than the harsh act of notifying the devastating messages to people.
While Ha-seok`s episode looks too imaginative, Yeom Jung-ah`s Ju-young represents a growing number of Korean working mothers who have to bear too many burdens at the same time. More and more women get full-time jobs, but they are also required to clean the house and bring up children, while men`s role does not change. And the busy schedule of such mothers means more kids have to play by themselves.
The firefighter story is a typical melodrama. Rescuing people from fires is always risky. No wonder Su-jeong is nervous all the time, even when she interprets the television news program, which is full of such accidents on a daily basis. A tragic turn is so widely expected that when the moment actually comes, the impact is strangely weak and twisted.
The episode involving mute Su-eun is cartoonish, seemingly targeting female audiences who read such romantic comic books avidly. Su-eun works at a theme park, dressed up as Snow White, putting on a huge mask and costume, and wants to date with a good-looking painter, who is cute and shy. To help realize the pure-hearted girl`s dream, the Seven Dwarves take steps to offer a help. This setting is indeed romantic, but the very fairy-tale nature makes it hard to buy it as a plausible story.
All the stories come to a sad ending, but the pace seems too slow to bear for the audiences who want to cry fast and get it over quickly. Dreamy camera shots dominate the film, fuzzy and creamy colors decorating the scenes - too often and too much.
A positive fact is that two female actors - Im Su-jeong and Shin Min-ah - have proved their potential and are likely to get a number of requests to star in other films. Im, in particular, exhibit temptingly sad eyes and delicate features that are expected to draw in mainly male moviegoers.
In recent days, Korea`s major music videos adopt similar formulas. Fuzzy yet beautiful backgrounds add to dramatic effects, while a beautiful girl (or boy) is briefly in love before facing a tragic ending. It works for the music video genre, but when four of them are artificially pieced together in a melodrama film, it doesn`t.

By Yang Sung-jin

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