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South Korea 2006

Romance, Drama

Han Lee

Kwon Sang-woo
Kim Ha-neul
Lee Sang-woo
Jeong Gyu-su
Jang Mi-ne
Park Jin-bin
Kang Ki-hwa
Choi Jong-ryol

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Almost Love

Story: Since his childhood Ji-hwan (Kwon Sang-woo) dreams to be the biggest action star in history one day. He idolizes Jackie Chan and therefore he trains whenever he can in order to be as skillful as him in the future. His friend since childhood days is Dal-rae (Kim Ha-neul), who is also chasing after a dream, as she wants to become a drama actress. The only problem is, that she starts shaking in front of big crowds, which is why she couldn't leave any good impression on the judges of the several auditions she has already attended.
Ji-hwan's best friend Young-hoon (Lee Sang-woo) eventually becomes Dal-rae's friend and Ji-hwan also is introduced to a woman, Ji-min (Jang Mi-ne), who he now meets regularly. Yet, neither Dal-rae nor Ji-hwan seem to experience sparks flying in their relationship. The two only seem to be happy when being together, even though this often means that they are argueing. What the two don't know, even though all too evident for everyone around them, especially their friends, is that the two have more than just friendly feelings towards each other...

Review: "Almost Love" is a romantic drama that seems to be right out of a book with the title "How to make a box-office hit" with the attached subheading "The romantic drama". I'm pretty sure that there is actually existing such a book in Korea and it serves producers of such movies as a holy bible, which rules are incontrovertible, since they have proved to be successful in their application on films. The only question is if the audience really isn't allowed to ask for more than simply the same over and over again?
"Almost Love" reunites the stars of the hit-comedy "My Tutor Friend", namely Kim Ha-neul and Kwon Sang-woo, and almost entirely builds its premise on the star factor the two provide. That is because narrational-wise the script is a disaster, as it doesn't know in which direction it wants to head, so that actually there are merely scenes put in an arbitrary sequence, scenes drawn out of the lives of the different characters that manage to entertain us, though. There is a big moment of frustration after the first entertaining half of the movie, however, when suddenly and "unexpectedly" (well, nowadays it has become somewhat of a norm) the film switches to being a tearjerking drama...

Kwon Sang-woo ("Spirit of Jeet Kune Do") gives a charismatic performance as the boyish teenager, who is trying to imitate his idol Jackie Chan, even to the degree that he copies his 70/80s pudding-basin haircut. That underlines the somehow childish and extraordinary character of Ji-hwan even more. Of course, he also looks kind of silly with that hair style, but he proves that he isn't someone you should easily label that way. He has friends and is smiled at surprisingly little because of his haircut, which stresses that he is actually a fine fellow. We also get to understand that when we see him compete against his friend Young-hoon in a parcour-like race, as he deliberately loses against him, or when he aims at being in a different weight class than his friend everytime a Taekwondo tournament is ahead, because he knows that he could beat him in that case. Naturally, Kwon Sang-woo once again performs (almost) all of his stunts himself and shows us his physical prowess and athleticism. But he can also convince on an acting level and delivers numerous emotions in a believable way.

Kim Ha-neul ("Ditto", "Dead Friend") plays the counterpart, a lively girl, who knows what she wants and chases after her dream of becoming an actress, even though she seems to have been dealt bad cards because of her stage fright. Anyway, together with her mother she fondly cares for her disabled father and yet still has the time to do Ji-hwan's laundry, who just does it like all smart men and concerning housework pretends to have a really bad hand, so that women are happy to take over such tasks.
The chemistry between the two actors is the actual entertaining element in "Almost Love". Every one for themself is a really nice individual, but when the two are together, then they badmouth and argue as if being mortal enemies. Maybe they don't want to, but they just have to do so. For the onlooker it's therefore pretty obvious: That must be love.

In fact the friends of the two also realize that, which is why they arrange some reconciliation talks for the two to be friends again. Ji-hwan and Dal-rae are connected by a lot of memories they share since childhood days, which we are also presented with in the shape of small flashbacks. Where the relationship of the two is heading eventually is nothing like a secret to us, but then there is a superfluous incident that changes the tone of the movie and feels immensely perfunctory, as there is no reason for the film to steer itself into the melodrama sea, so that you would really like to throw something at your TV out of rage and frustration. The only positive thing that you can find with a lot of goodwill is that the aimlessness of the movie and the capriciousness of the scenes are replaced by the problems and feelings of the protagonists being put into focus a little bit more because of the dramatic U-turn. Nevertheless, this doesn't change the fact that we get the impression to see a whole different movie during the second half. At least the ending is somewhat of a return to the mood of the beginning, or maybe more like a compromise of the movie's two halfs.

Director and script writer Han Lee ("Lover's Concerto") knows how to bring the chemistry of the two protagonists to screen the best, however, a narrative focus could have worked miracles in the movie. The way it is there are just some nice and funny scenes, some small fragments out of the lives of the two protagonists, which may be entertaining, yet make you simply wonder where all of this is heading. Apparently to a frustrating second half, which sudden wannabe-profound view on life seems very artificial and make the character mature before their time. As a viewer you clearly have the right to feel cheated, because this isn't what we actually paid for. For this reason alone "Almost Love" would have deserved to get even more criticism, but the good actors, the solid directing and the undeniable entertaining value still offer enough for a nice movie evening.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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