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Original Title:
Keunyeonen yebbeossda

South Korea 2008

Romance, Comedy, Drama

Choi Ik-hwan

Kim Soo-ro
Kim Jin-soo
Kang Seong-jin
Park Ye-jin
Lee Chae-young
Lee Won
Jeong Yoon-min
Goo Bon-im
Kim Choon-gi
Kim Roi-ha

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Life is Cool

Story: Il-kwon (Kim Soo-ro) is a policeman, who has had the opportunity to study in America thanks to an exchange program. Now that he comes back to Korea he is reunited with his friends Seong-hoon (Kim Jin-soo), an interpreter for a basketball team, and Tae-young (Kang Seong-jin), an English teacher. Il-kwon tells his buddies that he is going back to Amerika to make his Ph.D., but not before he has found a woman for marriage. Via an internet dating agency he meets material girl Mi-yeong (Lee Chae-young). At the same time he also sees more mature Yeon-woo (Park Ye-jin), who he is introduced to by a friend. Womanizer Il-kwon now has to choose a woman for life. However, he doesn't know that Tae-young was the boyfriend of Yeon-woo in the past for a long time, and that their seperation is the reason that he is still suffering from serious depression. To make things worse Seong-hoon also falls in love with Yeon-woo. But who does Yeon-woo choose in the end, and is the friendship of the three put to a serious test?

Review: "Life is Cool" first and foremost attracts interest because of its animated style. For this movie artists worked with the so-called rotoscoping method, a technique with which live-action shots are taken and get animated frame by frame. It shouldn't be surprising that such a procedure takes a serious amount of time, and thus it took two years after the filming had been finished until the movie finally hit theatres. Those who don't know of the advantages of such a filming technique most likely didn't watch "A Scanner Darkly" or the animated insertion in "Wanee and Junah". In contrast to regular animated movies a film made with the rotoscoping procedure stands out with movements that look very realistic and create a strong feeling of three-dimensionality and plasticity. Interestingly enough, Korea chose a romantic drama as its first fully rotoscope-animated feature film.

Which naturally brings us to the question if such a film actually is in need of an extraordinary technique like this. Anyway, it remains a question to be answered because of the fact that "Life is Cool" also would have worked well without any animation and only is enhanced by it to a petty or insignificant degree. Still, we have to turn to this aspect of the movie first and take a closer look at how it has been put to use. In fact, you will need a little bit of time to get used to the somewhat constant flickering pictures. When a scene is shot from a distance, the outlines and faces seem a bit blurry, moreover, it is apparant that not every face could be animated in the background. Especially during the basketball game we often see some lifeless faces in the audience. But you gladly look over that fact, when you think of how much work would have had to be involved when also trying to animate every single face here. Most likely "Life is Cool" would have had gotten out in five years at best...

However, during close-ups the pictures look very plastic and make up for a fascinating hybrid work of art, as the film seems to be settled somewhere between reality and animation. That's exactly what's so exciting about this technique. Especially some of the dream sequences in nature, with all the green leaves and fields, can cast a little smile on the face of the viewer.
But what about "Life is Cool" as a movie? As a romantic comedy with some drama to it the movie isn't that bad either. In an honest way we are presented with the lives of three friends, who unfortunately all end up being interested in the same woman. Yet, the actual background stories of the characters are every now and then told in little pieces scattered throughout the movie in the shape of inserted flashbacks. Thereby, it's not always easy to keep track what time level we are watching at the moment, as director Choi Ik-hwan ("Voice") switches between them without warning, which even gets more complicated by the fact that the rotoscoping technique does create some sort of desorientation itself, too.

Sadly, the animation technique can't always transfer the facial expressions of the actors 1:1, so that sometimes the feeling is created that the actors are a bit wooden. In general, though, it's safe to say that every one of them delivers a decent portrayal, especially Kim Soo-ro ("Vampire Cop Ricky") can once again serve with some good laughs thanks to his extroverted behaviour. Concerning the humor you got to say that it's pretty well implemented and has a highlight in an "Oldboy"-hommage at the police station, or in a spontaneous singing sequence, which makes fun of the fact that it seems to be obligative for an animated movie that there is some singing, even or especially when everything is going haywire. Furthermore, director Choi makes fun of Korean's English skills, e.g. in the already mentioned police station scene, in which Il-kwon wants his colleagues to talk English with him for excercising purpose, so that even two criminals who are brought to the station suddenly start to talk in English. It's the stereotypes of the animated genre Choi plays with in a sometimes unexpected and at times almost brilliant way.

At other points Choi almost completely distances himself from reality, for example when he makes the three friends and Yeon-woo ice-skate over a basketball field or lets them ascend to the nightsky while dancing. Surprisingly, even those scenes don't feel cheesy at all, but underline the pleasure and pain that the feeling of love creates in the three friends and this in a way that feels honest. The drama that goes hand in hand with it is pleasently unobtrusive, even the concern that a fight for the same woman might break loose between the three friends and destroy their friendship, as it is often the case in such constellations, proves to be without reason. The only sour note is that we can't really understand Yeon-woo's decision to choose the man, whom we would have considered to be the last choice.
"Life is Cool" is an honest, yet funny take on love in its different shapes and also criticizes Korean society with wit and brains, e.g. when it comes to marriages via internet dating agencies, where it's not about love, but about capital and a firmly settled life. In this respect the movie earns more points, in my opinion, than with its technical expertise, even though this is an eyecatcher, naturally. Recommendable!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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