When a gangster falls in love

By Claire Lee

Hwang Jung-min’s latest tearjerker offers another conventional, tragic romance

  • Published : Jan 15, 2014 - 19:26
  • Updated : Jan 15, 2014 - 19:26

A scene from “When a Man Loves a Woman.” (NEW)
Prominent actor Hwang Jung-min is back with his latest romance “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a typical Korean tearjerker in many ways. There is a gangster, a terminal illness and a betrayal. And tears. A lot of them.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” is produced by the same producers of last year’s successful noir “New World,” which earned Hwang the best actor prize at the Blue Dragon Awards for his performance as Jung Chung, the powerful, charismatic gangster.

In spite of his impressive acting, the new film starring himself once again as a gangster fails to be memorable, mostly because of its conventional, predictable script with too many cliches.

Unlike Jung Chung, Hwang’s new gangster protagonist, Tae-il, does not work for the biggest crime ring in the country. He collects debt on behalf of a loan shark and lives with his barber brother and his family. He is almost 40 but has never been in love.

His life turns upside down when he meets one of his targets, Ho-jeong (played by actress Han Hye-jin), a bank clerk who is taking care of her debt-ridden, terminally ill father. During their first encounter, Tae-il forces her to sign a contract that requires her to sell her organs if she can’t pay back her father’s debt on time.

After their not-so-pleasant first meeting, however, Tae-il finds himself thinking about Ho-jeong constantly. He writes a new contract and offers it to her: He will exempt her from the debt if she goes on date with him. The more dates she goes on, the less debt she will have to pay off. Ho-jeong rejects his offer at first, but knowing that she is unable to make the payments at any cost, she reluctantly agrees. And they start to go on awkward “dates.” In one scene, Ho-jeong just sits and does nothing while Tae-il eats at a restaurant.

Ho-jeong finally opens up to Tae-il when her father dies, and no one comes to the funeral except him. Although he is a gangster involved with an illegal business, Tae-il is the only one she can rely on. It is clear she doesn’t have a lot of options in life ― her late father was her only family, and it seems like she has no close friends ― yet it is hard to empathize with the way she falls in love with him. She falls for him only because Tae-il is literally the only one who can help her get out of her miserable situation. And that “only person” could’ve been anyone. People don’t always fall in love with someone only because they need them.

The film reaches its tragic climax as their unlikely romance faces a cancer diagnosis and a betrayal at Tae-il’s work.

The second half of the film is dominated by predictable stereotyped scenes, with a lot of tears and violence. Though the film tries a lot of genres ― romance, tragedy and gangster action, it fails to show something of its own. Nonetheless, Kwak Do-won, who plays Tae-il’s brother in the film, delivers a memorable performance, adding an unexpected comic twist to the piece.

A Next Entertainment World release, “When a Man Loves a Woman” opens in theaters on Jan. 22.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)