Story: Lee Won-sang (Park Hae-il) is working on his master's thesis and wants to study abroad after finishing it. At the moment, his head is
occupied with private issues, though, as his girlfriend has cheated on him with another man, who now has dumped her. Lee decides to get to
know that man and takes up a job at a magazine whose editor he, Han Yun-shik (Mun Seong-kun), is. He then oftentimes goes out with Han
drinking a bit and a strange almost friendly relationship starts to unfold between them. Also working for the same magazine is photographer
Park Seong-yeon (Bae Chong-ok) who Won-sang starts to get interested in. He begs her not to let her get twisted around Han's finger, but there still
is no serious relationship building up between Won-sang and her. Moreover, the young landlady Ahn Hye-ok (Seo Yeong-hee) has an eye on Lee Won-sang,
who starts to realize that he can learn quite some things from Han Yun-shik. Maybe his emotional wounds will heal faster if he gets closer
to the womanizer and so Won-sang tries to finally find his place in this world.
Review: "Jealousy is My Middle Name" is a quiet drama revolving around a hurt man who wants to find out with what kind of married man his
ex-girlfriend cheated on him. Since Won-sang is a very introverted guy you can't really be sure if his reason for getting to know Yun-shik isn't
revenge maybe. Without a doubt, though, it's about helping him to eventually put the past behind him and find peace. The editor Han Yun-shik
could actually help him with this, because the way he juggles
work and affairs without any apparent effort Won-sang surely can learn
something from him about life. As the hurt young man says himself everything seems to be so easy for Yun-shik. His own life on the other hand is
very complicated. It seems as if he is somehow stuck and now has apparently found a friend, father figure or teacher in Yun-shik who can show him the
right way he has lost sight off. And thus a subtle drama unfolds that carries some little truths of life in its dialogues.
At first sight, director Park Chan-ok presents a simple story in his debut work that transports its complexity through the relationships and its subtext. With its tranquil pacing the director obviously wants to aim for pleasing art-house-cinema fans, but thanks to the great acting achievements the movie never really gets boring, that is if you can warm to this kind of drama.
Park Hae-il ("The Host") plays the calm protagonist who shuts his pain within himself and is therefore not easliy accessable for the viewer. But that's also what makes him so fascinating, especially later on when we get to know more about him during the few confessions he makes and then start to realize why we can sympathize with him. He believes that he hasn't achieved anything in life, yet, and that he also has nothing to offer a woman. He thinks that he can't make anybody happy. How could he as a student without money and also no chance to ever get alternative business loans for example compare himself to a successful businessman like Han Yun-shik? His suffering is oftentimes written on his face.
But what does happiness mean, anyway? Han Yun-shik can only be seen as a happy guy in the respect that he doesn't take life too seriously anymore. He says himself that he loved two things in this world since his early days, literature and women. As a writer he could never gain a foothold because he had a too normal life. In his opinion, you have to have a hurt and scarred soul in order to be able to tell a good story as a writer. That's only one of the few truths that are scattered throughout "Jealousy is my Middle Name". Thus, Han Yun-shik has no other choice but to indulge his second passion, women. In Korea there seems to be a more liberal way to deal with adultery anyway, at least that's the impression you oftentimes get. Or at least as long as you don't raise that topic it is tolerated. This may be not that different with us westerners and at a certain age the curiosity to try something new might become too big, especially for men. But all of this are themes that are only touched. Even though Yun-shik is a womanizer he remains sympathetic and also has his own share of problems and concerns.
Mun Seong-kun ("Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors", "Princess Aurora") is a veteran who time and again outshines Park Hae-il with his multi-layered acting. But also standing out is Bae Chong-ok who plays the photographer/veterinary. She slowly discovers that her feelings for Won-sang are more serious than what she thought. Furthermore, there is also the landlady who has taken over the job of her senile father. She also has an eye on Won-sang for quite a while already. So, the student actually has nothing to complain about, but he isn't capable of realizing that since he is filled with an inner emptiness that has been caused by splitting up with his girlfriend. In one scene in which he actually meets with his ex-girlfriend again, who is also very upset about the fact that he works with her former lover Yun-shik as she fears that he could talk to the editor about the whole matter, we can see (if only briefly hinted at) what's really going on inside Won-sang. His ex-girlfriend's identity is actually never of interest since we don't get to see her face in any scene so that it almost becomes a running gag that her face is always turned away from the camera.
The emotional paralysis of Won-sang can be a bit tiring for the viewer at times and you also can never really grasp the reasons for the individual characters' actions, but "Jealousy is my Middle Name" is made according to a pattern, that seemingly demands of us to look for a deeper sense. This once again may be rather tiresome at times and especially the ending is quite frustrating because of its suddenness. Was the reason for that to express that nothing has changed at all and everything has to repeat itself in the end again?
Under its simple surface Park Chan-ok's film proves to be unexpectedly complex and so its biggest flaw is that it can't or won't show us any direction it wants us to start interpreting. When you try to do so then you oftentimes get the feeling of fishing in the dark. A little bit more purposefulness would have been nice because as it is we only get a small fragment of the life of an introverted and hurt individual which despite the great acting achievements could have offered so much more.