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South Korea 2007

Drama, Romance, Action

Kwak Kyung-taek

Ju Jin-mo
Park Si-yeon
Lim Seong-gyoo
Joo Hyeon
Kim Min-joon
Lim Hyeon-seong
Hong Seok-yeon
Bae Kwang-won
Kim Myeong-jae
Lee Hwi-Hyang
Kwak Min-Seok

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A Love

Story: The little boy Chae In-ho meets the girl Mi-ju and instantly falls in love with her. Because he protects her from someone who bullies her she invites him to her birthday celebration. However, when he arrives at her place he has to witness her home getting completely cleared out because the family seems to be in a lot of debt. He doesn't see the girl again, but a few years later In-ho (Ju Jin-mo) is about to graduate from high school and makes friends with someone whose sister happens to be none other than Mi-ju (Park Si-yeon). When his friend kills himself and his mother Mi-ju isn't just without a family, but also gets kidnapped by the gangster Chi-kwon (Lim Seong-gyoo) because of the debt of her family. As In-ho has sworn to protect Mi-ju he frees her and in the process injures the gangster severely. He is sentenced to serve some time in prison and Mi-ju wants to testify against the gangsters with whom he clashed so that In-ho's prison sentence gets reduced to a minimum. Yet, after that she has to leave the country as she would have to fear the gangsters taking revenge if she stayed. In-ho who has assured himself of Mi-ju's love for him writes letters to his beloved every day, but every one of them comes back. It seems as if his girlfriend forgot about him. When he is released from prison he starts to work as a bodyguard for a rich businessman and eventually works his way up to the top until he is his right hand. Seven years have passed when he suddenly sees Mi-ju again...

Review: A romantic drama with the literally translated title "Love" really sounds suspicious coming out from a country which is famous for its genre of kitsch-loaden romantic flicks. Interestingly enough no moviemaker dared to make a movie with the uberkitsch-promising title "A Love" or just "Love" before. Kwak Gyeong-taek has the courage to do so, though, and this name most likely will make critics listen up as Kwak is after all the director who made one of the most successful and influential works of a new generation in Korea, namely his movie "Friend". Contrary to other testosteron-loaden works of his like "Typhoon" "A Love" is in fact a romantic drama with everything that comes along with it! Of course this also includes a lot of tears and some emotional scenes that maybe prove to be maybe a bit over-the-top, but the fantastic acting abilities of Ju Jin-mo and the fact that director Kwak more or less approaches his movie from a macho-like perspective, make this movie hit the right notes.

It strikes the eye pretty soon that the love story doesn't grant man and woman the same amount of time. We watch the drama unfolding through the eyes of In-ho and we get to know the modern archetype of a man. Rough, unselfish and when it comes to love vulnurable as well. Ju Jin-mo ("Musa", "Wanee and Junah") is simply the perfect cast for this role and is responsible that we can take In-ho into our heart in an instant. He is very masculine, his distinctive looks and his deep voice add to this impression and he also doesn't refrain from letting his fists speak when it comes to taking care of unjustness. Yet when a woman enters the stage he also is capable of crying his eyes out. That's what makes many men find themselves in him. Yes, women just need to open their eyes, there are more sensitive men around them nowadays than they think! And one of them stands in the focus of a story that is genre-overlapping and adds more tension and action to the mix than many other romantic dramas, yet always remains a character explorative drama in its core.

However, it has to be pointed out that the film is predictable on many occasions and we often know how the characters will act even way before they do, which is doing everything that will lead them further down the vortex of tragedy. Of course there are some obvious melodramatic moments and the scenes in which the two lovers don't express what they actually want to say have an especially intense effect on the audience. Naturally, the whole melodrama of the film could have been avoided if just one of the characters had said only once what he really thinks, then on the other hand this movie is about love and when it comes to love who actually says what he really means? Still, on a closer look it's difficult to blame In-ho for any of what transpires. He protects his "girlfriend" whenever he can and even opens up to her in a honest fashion concerning his feelings for her. In fact, he's always the one of the two who takes a step closer to his beloved and because of Mi-ju's seemingly cold nature we have to ask the question if this relationship isn't maybe one-sided love.

This also brings us to a big problem of "A Love" which is Mi-ju's character. She is too unelaborated even to that degree that we have to ask ourselves what In-ho actually sees in her. Thanks to Ju Jin-mo's great acting it's easy, though, to sympathize with him and to understand his feelings of a maybe projected glorified kind of love, in other words having fallen in love with the glorified feeling of love itself. In-ho is a strong protector who suffers a lot. Fate really doesn't mean well for him, a fact which also stands as one of the film's flaws because naturally some of the coincidences that play an important role for the story progression seem to be far-fetched to say the least. Still, director Kwak is quite aware of that and thus makes In-ho complain about cruel fate playing its game with him in an almost apologetic fashion.
All the tears and heart-ache aside Kwak doesn't forget to put a good portion of tension and action into his movie as well. Some brawls against several gangsters, which are surprisingly bloody for a melodrama, deliver the necessary diversity.

The mix of a drama and a very thrilling little gangster story - thrilling because somehow it feels quite realistic in approach - sometimes reminds us of "A Bittersweet Life". Unfortunately, "A Love" doesn't ascend to its level of expertise most of all since it lacks subtlety. Nonetheless, the film is complemented by nice pictures and a good soundtrack. The only thing that's sticking out negatively is the ending because it's maybe a bit too classic and more importantly because of the last freeze picture which really is annoying. A movie shouldn't end with a frozen picture which stays on the screen for minutes! That's a big no-go...
Apart from some of the typical flaws of a romantic melodrama "A Love" proves to be a well-done, tear-filled movie which is also easy for male audiences to watch thanks to its focus on a manly and though individual, a man that can also suffer from the same heartache as women no matter how many gangsters he can knock out in a fist fight. Simply the ideal modern man for women which is way the female audience will like "A Love" as well.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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