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[Herald Review] ‘Intimate Strangers’ fun and enjoyable, until it’s not

Basketball fans may be familiar with the story of the Minnesota Timberwolves in their post-Kevin Garnett rebuilding years, when they repeatedly played exceptionally for three quarters and then collapsed in the fourth.

Watching Lee Jae-kyoo’s “Intimate Strangers” felt just like watching the T-wolves play during that disappointing season. The film had such superb acting, so many funny and witty moments, before a huge letdown.

“Intimate Strangers” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Intimate Strangers” (Lotte Entertainment)

The comedy-drama starts off with married couple Seok-ho and Ye-jin, played by Cho Jin-woong and Kim Ji-soo, who invite a group of lifelong friends to a housewarming party. Seok-ho’s childhood friend Tae-soo (Yoo Hae-jin) is an authoritative figure in the house, particularly for Soo-hyun (Yum Jung-ah). Another friend, Joon-mo (Lee Seo-jin), is a former playboy who recently married the much-younger Se-kyung (Song Ha-yoon). Young-bae (Yoon Kyung-ho), a recently divorced former teacher with a temper, joins them.

During dinner, Ye-jin suggests that the seven play a game where they have to disclose the contents of every single text and phone call they receive throughout the evening. The others lightheartedly accept, and a series of life-altering events unravels as their darkest secrets are revealed.

Though it starts off dull, the film quickly heats up -- both in terms of fun and drama. This is largely due to quality acting from most of the cast.

Actor Yoo Hae-jin has a knack for pulling off the funny and the serious, and he does both here. His quarrel with Young-bae is easily the funniest scene, enough to wake up any viewers who may have been yawning.

His chemistry with Yum brings out the tension between the couple, while also showing that they still care about each other.

It is actress Kim Ji-soo who is pivotal in chipping away the finish that coats this supposedly perfect group of people. She manages to portray someone who, despite leading an outwardly enviable life, is on the edge. It is her seemingly shrill nature that brings out the tension lurking beneath the peaceful exterior.

Director Lee also manages to weave a complicated series of conflicts into a neat little circle, without letting viewers get lost in the commotion. Despite the convoluted plot, the film is fairly easy to follow.

It’s also funny and compelling. The director manages to create a riveting story without the cast setting one foot outside the apartment.

But in the third act, when the movie seems to be about to deliver its final punch, it just bails. The momentum that has been building dissolves into nothingness, and the message rings hollow.

The film is a remake of the 2016 Italian movie “Perfect Strangers,” which questioned whether honesty really was always the best policy. “Intimate Strangers,” however, seems to have answered that question for the viewers -- and in a very awkward manner.

The mundane lines seemed generic, and the characters were stereotypical. However, these were small problems compared with how the film ended, which left me feeling confused about how I felt about the film.

It is a well-acted and funny film, up until the moment when it slapped me in the face with the mother of all letdowns.

“Intimate Strangers” hits local theaters Oct. 31.

By Yoon Min-sik (