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Original Title:

South Korea 2008

Romance, Comedy

Ryu Jang-ha

Yu Ji-tae
Lee Yeon-hee
Kang In
Chae Jeong-an
Choi Soo-young
Na Yeong-hie
Lee Ju-shil
Sun Chung-sik
Kim Kang-woo
Hwang Seok-jeong
Kang Pool

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Hello Schoolgirl

Story: 30-years old Kim Yun-woo (Yu Ji-tae) moves into a new apartment. He is a civil worker at the local district bureau and leads a solitary life until he meets the daughter of one of his neighbors, 18-years old Han Soo-young (Lee Yeon-hee). When one day she forgets the necktie of her school uniform at home she asks Yun-woo to lend her his. From that day on the two meet more frequently and a deeper friendship evolves.
At the same time Yun-woo's friend Kang Sook (Kang In) approaches the 7 years older Kwon Ha-kyeong (Chae Jeong-an) at a subway station. Sook seems to be head over heels in love with her, but even though the two have some dates, Ha-kyeong rejects her new boyfriend, eventually, because the scars of her prior relationship are still too deep for her to start a new one. Yun-woo on the other hand must realize that society doesn't approve the kind of relationship he has with the schoolgirl Soo-young.

Review: At first glance it might seem that "Hello Schoolgirl" is a "Lolita"-like socio-drama, but this first impression is a misleading one. Actually, this is just a naively cute love story, that centers around the relationships of four individuals, who seem to be seperated from one another by a certain difference in age and on a social level. However, the movie never wanders a path all too serious and also doesn't feel like a drama. Nonetheless, "Hello Schoolgirl" also isn't your typical romantic comedy, because for this the movie is just too genuine and lacks the cheap laughters, instead the film captivates the viewer with its very own charming nature, which will win you over in no time and make you root for the characters. Therefore, if you are looking for a romantic movie that avoids all the clichés so many Korean moviemakers make use of nowadays, then you don't need to look any further.

The film's story is split in two, the one revolving around Sook and Ha-kyeong is a little bit more sad and the relationship between Yun-woo and Soo-young is cuter and nicer to look at. The way the two stories are linked together is very well achieved since they, as we get to know as the film progresses, are connected by several and different circumstances and individuals. The movie switches between the two stories in a pretty well balanced manner, yet it can't be overseen that a main focus still lies on the story of the schoolgirl and the 30-years old Yun-woo. That's also a good decision of the filmmakers, as this story has more heart and charm to it than the other one, which doesn't mean that Sook's love drama isn't captivating as well. It's just that the initial jauntiness with which Soo-young and Yun-woo approach and learn to know each other is simply more enthralling and fascinating.

Yu Ji-Tae ("Oldboy", "One Fine Spring Day") is a true Jack of all trades and delivers a really charismatic performance as the lonely civil worker, never falling into any category of "oddball" or something similar, although he might have one or two characteristics of such a person. Nevertheless, he wins the heart of the audience in no time and the very vigorous Soo-young, played by drop-dead gorgeous Lee Yeon-hee ("A Millionaire's First Love"), supplements him very fittingly. The two get closer in a natural way and at first don't waste any thought on what people might think of the relationship between an adult and a schoolgirl, resp. minor, because in Korea you are not yet considered an adult at the age of 18. There are even some demonstrations of love like snow falling in summer, for which Yun-woo is responsible, but these scenes are at the same time naive and honest in an appealing way, therefore not even making you come up with the word "cheesy" at all.

A little bit later on, though, Yun-woo has to face and struggle with what others think of his relationship, nonetheless. Thankfully, "Hello Schoolgirl" doesn't shift into the realms of a drama at that point, not working towards a tearjerking ending. Problems and shortcomings in society are only subtly hinted at. Anyway, there is also a little bit of humor every now and again, which however is made use of in a very modest manner. In one scene Yun-soo and Soo-young are at the cinema, watching the movie "Happiness". As the camera moves through the faces of the audience we get to understand that in Korea such movies are apparently solely watched by couples. Guys are dragged into cinemas to watch these romances only so that the next time they can watch a horror flick with their girlfriends. Naturally, with the only aim to have some more body contact...
Director Ryu Jang-ha ("Springtime") really makes his pictures glow and shine, letting the movie radiate a certain warmth with almost every frame. Whenever he has the chance he makes use of the sunlight to his advantage, which is why the lighting in the movie creates a higly cozy and nice feeling within the viewer.

The warmth of the movie is most of all conveyed by the characters, though, which is exactly why the story around Yun-woo and Soo-young is so nice to look at. The relationship between the two is extremely innocent and evolves in a way that's just fun to look at. Unfortunately, it's not the same with the second story, which is always outshined by the first one. Ha-kyeong and Sook, played by K-Pop star Kang In, simply lack individuality and there is never a spark igniting between them. Still, without this story and the numerous crossings of the two love tales something would have been amiss, so that we are gladly willing to overlook this downside. "Hello Schoolgirl", which is by the way based on the manga, or manhwa as Koreans call it, by Kang Pool, who just so happens to have a small cameo appearance as an umbrella salesman, is just a movie to put you into a good mood without giving you a bad conscience that you actually just watched some total nonsense. Simply a film that's very sympathetic.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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