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South Korea 2006

Drama, Romance

Kang Ji-eun

Kang Hye-jeong
Cho Seung-woo
Byeon Ju-yeon
Park Geon-Tae
Park Sin-hye
Kang Shin-il
Jeong Jin-yeong

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Love Phobia

Story: Little A-ri (Byeon Ju-yeon) is an orphan and lives with a priest in a temple. Wearing a yellow raincoat she tells everyone in school that she is cursed. Everyone she touches will become ill or experience something awful. Henceforth, every kid in school avoids A-ri, except of Cha Jo-Kang (Park Geon-Tae) who becomes friends with her. However, Cha's closeness to A-ri doesn't do him any good. He comes down with measles and when he is fine again A-ri doesn't seem to attend school anymore. Shortly after that Cha and his family move to Seoul and he doesn't see A-ri for about ten years.
Unexpectedly A-ri (Kang Hye-jeong) contacts Cha (Cho Seung-woo) and wants to meet with him. The two spent some time together, their relationship deepens and eventually love grows out of it. However, A-ri suddenly disappears again, this time it's for about eight years.
Out of the blue A-ri visits Cha, who now works as a banker. Contrary to what he believed in the old days, Cha now doesn't swallow anything of A-ri's fine little fairy tales. She claims that she has been abducted by aliens, because the magnetic field around her attracts UFOs. Is A-ri just a notorious liar or does she try to cover up an even worse truth with her tales?

Review: "Love Phobia" doesn't make it easy for us. It is made according to the well known formula that made so many other love dramas a success, yet comes up with some interesting and unusual ideas, which can nearly burn it into the head of the viewer for some time. Nonetheless, in the end it is somehow bothering that behind the facade of a seemingly inventive story alternation the movie in its core can't provide us with anything new. This is the more sad as the film does not only stand out because of its two great actors, but also delivers some good subtle humour and a love story that has almost an epic character, because it is stretched over several years. However, when it comes to the emotional moments, then the film gets lost in clichés all too much and just can't match up to the quality level of the rest.

"Love Phobia" begins with a heart-melting scene when little A-ri dressed in her yellow raincoat can instantly win over the audience with her big saucer eyes. The two child actors do a great job and especially Byeon Ju-yeon is cute as a button. She soon manages to arouse our curiosity about her character. Why does she wear a yellow raincoat, what's this thing about her curse and why does she come up with so many cooked up stories? Her stories about lizards, their long names etc. make her character more colourful, yet unfortunately Cha gets only a raw deal. Moreover, the "love story" between her and Cha is a bit unconvincing. After all they are just two kids, yet they sometimes look like two twins of their future alter egos.

Ten years later A-ri and Cha meet again. A-ri is still a strange girl, she also keeps telling fairy tales, but she is as likeable as she was as a kid. Naturally, it's here where the love story starts to evolve, but when the climax is reached A-ri just disappears again. Eight more years have to pass by until she turns up again. For whatever reasons, Cha could only think of her and is still a single - well, I guess that's what true love is all about... Anyway, A-ri suddenly comes up with a story about aliens, which is not that surprising as she already told Cha as a child that she is from another planet. It's also no surprise that Cha is sick of her tales and just wants to be together with A-ri. Yet, she tells him that she has to go again...
Since "Love Phobia" is a melodrama you won't be catched off guard when suddenly... no, forget about it. I won't spoil anything here, but be assured that it gets very emotional. Unfortunately, some scenes feel a bit cheap and can't keep up with the above average style of the rest of the film.

Kang Hye-jeong ("Oldboy", "Welcome to Dongmakgol") oftentimes outacts her collegues, but this is no wonder since Kang is not only the actual star of the movie, but Cho Seung-woo just had to look a bit shallow after and in comparison to his impressive efforts in "Marathon". Yet, that's all not that tragic since the chemistry between the two is just right and that's all that matters. However, when you are aware of the fact that the two actors are also a couple in real life then this takes away some of the love story's tension. Uhm... maybe then I shouldn't have told you...
"Love Phobia" also has its fair share of funny moments. Small scenes like those when Cha tries to take a look at A-ri's low-cut neckline or the father who is said not to wash his hands after going to the toilet and after that makes sushi for his customers, or soldiers who think about using shovels to get rid of the lava when a volcano erupts, can make you laugh out loud.

Sadly, the more dramatic scenes don't work out that good, since they are unnecessarily stretched. Especially towards the end you start to wish that it finally would end. All the tears can't really go near you, since we've seen all of it before the one way or the other. It's only the small scenes that can move us, e.g. when Cha in the bank ties his girlfriend up to a chair so that after her eight years of absence she can't vanish again or the last heart-warming monolgue.
The end might be a bit confusing for some viewers. After every "X-Files"-fan finally gets to know how crop circles are actually being made and most of all by whom and why, the movie seems to make a turn for the supernatural genre. Yet, you don't need to explain everything that happens this way and in fact the film becomes even more conclusive if you don't think too much about a supernatural explanation of the events. Nonetheless, the ending is a bit strange, yet that's also what makes this movie special in a certain way.

"Love Phobia" has some nice ideas, many of the outdoor settings are beautiful and all in all there are no flaws concerning the technique. So it's the more unfortunate that in the end the movie feels just too formulaic. Yet, the film can stick out of the masses of so many similar works and it even has its little magic moments. If my heart would be made of cotton candy and I would see the world through pink glasses, then the melodramatic scenes may have been able to touch me deeply and cause me to give the movie a better rating. But that's just not how it is.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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