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Architecture 101 - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2012

Romance, Drama

Lee Yong-joo

Uhm Tae-woong
Han Ga-in
Lee Je-hoon
Bae Su-ji
Jo Jeong-seok
Yoo Yeon-seok
Kim Dong-ju
Lee Seung-ho
Kim Ee-seong

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Architecture 101

aka An Introduction to Architecture

Story: Lee Seung-min (Uhm Tae-woong) is an architect and one day meets Yang Seo-yeon (Han Ga-in), a former fellow student with whom he went to the same university. She seeks his help because she wants to build a house. Seung-min is wondering why of all people she asks him to do it, but his boss makes clear that he has no other choice but to accept the new job. Henceforth, Seung-min spends a lot of time with Seo-yeon, much to the distress of his girlfriend with whom he soon wants to go to America as he wants to marry her there. Slowly Seung-min remembers more and more clearly the days at the university and his first meeting with Seo-yeon. She was his first love and since the two lived in the same neighborhood they soon became close. Young Seung-min (Lee Je-hoon) didn't have to courage to tell the beautiful Seo-yeon (Bae Su-ji) about his true feelings and she herself seemed to be interested in someone else. Years later the relationship between the two still seems to have some loose ends, but for Seung-min a new life starts without Seo-yeon.

Review: When it comes to romantic flicks you can't be critical enough. Many of them are overloaden with kitsch and toy with the viewer's emotions in the cheapest of ways. Every now and then a movie manages to come to the big screen that gets so much positive response that even I get curious, though. Whether the success of "Architecture 101" is a justified one or not remains a difficult question nonetheless. Since the movie deals with the subject of first love in a very mature way especially towards the end you surely will be pleasantly surprised, still there are also some big problems concerning the characters. Especially Seo-yeon depicts an individual that poses some serious difficulties having sympathy for her. In the end there seems to be no other option but to give her the blame for all the drama unfolding.

It really would be interesting to find out whether everyone feels that way or if it is actually just a gender-specific perception. Would females rather put the blame on Seung-min for the relationship between the two fellow students heading nowhere since he just can't muster up the courage to confess his feelings to the girl? But the nonambiguous questions he asks her never leave any doubt about his interest in her. So why does she treat him so bad? Why does she tell Seung-min that she has an eye on the head of a student club like any other girl? It may be true that she is the one who is making the first steps in the relationship between the two, but you inevitably get the feeling that she simply meets with him since she is new in the neighborhood and is looking for someone to show her around and talk with her.

Maybe my obvious antipathy towards the girl derives from the fact that her actions are utterly implausible and that the part of the movie taking place in the past is told from Seung-min's perspective. We see him suffer, ask his friend for advice and eventually he even has to cry on his friend's shoulder. Thankfully, there are no cheap coincidences that serve as obstacles for the relationship but in fact there are only conclusive (wrong) decisions on the part of Seung-min. Seo-yeon's behavior continously remains implausible, though. She eventually married a rich man and became unhappy, yet stayed with that man for a few more years in order to get some more money out of him when she filed the divorce papers. Someone like that deserves the fate that awaits her.

It is almost anger that you start to feel over the fact that Seo-yeon turns up after several years and opens old wounds when Seung-min is just about to marry another woman. Therefore, half of the movie doesn't work out since you can't have sympathy for Seo-yeon. And it's difficult to tell if this really was the director's intention.
The director himself studied architecture and because of this, and also considering the movie's title, you should expect that architecture is somewhat standing in the film's focus. However, that's not the case, apart from the building of a house and a few nice shots of it towards the end. This is rather simply a romance flick which, as needs to be pointed out, does a lot more right than many similar films and manages to come along with surprisingly little kitsch or none at all, with the exception of a 90s ballad.

Many critics laudated the acting achievements in the movie. I would simply call them appropriate because the problem is once again that, apart from Seung-min in the past, we can't really sympathize with any of the characters, as they remain somewhat cold emotionally. "Architecture 101" is parallely told on two different time levels, but only the one taking place in the 90s is emotionally involving. Even though the pictures there may be as bright and rich in contrast as in the present (a different filter laid over the pictures would have been nice) there are still some things, like the portable CD-player, that manage to create a believable time travel along with a feeling of nostalgia. "Architecture 101" surely counts as one of the better romantic flicks despite the aforementioned problems. What really saves it, tough, is a pleasantly mature ending.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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