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No One's Life Is Easy (aka So I Married an Anti-Fan)
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by Jay Seaver

"Resentment, disdain, love."
3 stars

There are bits of "So I Married an Anti-Fan" (actually "So I Married My Anti-Fan" on-screen, although being marketed in North America as "No One's Life Is Easy") with some real potential; director Kim Jae-young, adapting a manhwa by Jiwan, does a fair job of wrapping an amiable romantic comedy around show-business satire without trying to be above it. Both the romance and the parody would work a little better if they didn't so often seem to be on autopilot, even if that does get them going in the right direction.

It starts with tabloid intern Fang Miaomiao (Yuan Shanshan) and her friend/photographer Qifei (Mei Nyan-jia) trying to get pictures of South Korean musician Houzhun (Park Chan-yeol), a move which eventually gets Miaomiao fired as the "Woman Sense" magazine she works for is entering a partnership with Houzhun's management company. With a lot of anger and time on her hands, she dedicates herself to becoming an "anti-fan" - which, ironically, gives Houzhun's management the idea of a reality show pairing the two. As you might expect, this initially leads them to not only resent but actively dislike each other, although, given time...

I suspect that, watching this as an American, I'm missing a fair bit of context, as much as I've ready about how thoroughly corporate and branded pop bands are in much of East Asia, it isn't ingrained like it might be for a native fan - star Park Chan-yeol, for instance, is not just a member of Korean boy band EXO but it's "sub-unit" EXO-K, with co-star "Seohyun" Seo Ju-hyun similarly a member of Girls' Generation sub-group TTS, and I don't think it quite works like that on this side of the Pacific yet. Having Houzhun take part in this sort of reality show might be more of an in-joke for his fans than folks coming in cold; he has done a fair number of them. Though there are bits explaining the idea of the "anti-fan", a fair amount of the pop culture exposition comes in terms of on-screen graphics that aren't subtitled.

Still, the bits that are clear have an enjoyable edge to them; the scene of Miaomiao shooting the introduction video for the show does a nice job of establishing how even the nice, "relatable" folks on those shows are fairly mercenary, for instance. The early energy of the film comes from how pretty much everyone is, if not exactly a jerk, certainly out for themselves and not shy about grabbing for it. The film is at its best when it's being kind of pointed while still being big and wacky.

As it goes on, unfortunately, things get kind of slack. Of course Miaomiao loses her glasses and gets her hair straightened, despite it arguably making her blandly attractive rather than actively cute. There's a "Houzhun and Miaomiao get handcuffed to each other" sequence that has a few good gags despite the script seeming to make no effort get in and out of it. Great pains are made to connect how both Houzhun and Miaomiao have friends who have paired up, but not much comes of it - the relationship between Houzhun, his ex-girlfriend Ailin (Seohyun), and rival Gaoxiang (Jiang Chao) is a mess, while Qifei and Meizi (Sun Meijing) basically appear when the film needs help getting Miaomiao into an awkward situation. It's a romantic comedy built out of the right parts but content to jump between them in a less than elegant manner.

It matters less than it might, because Park Chan-yeol and Yuan Shanshan are an enjoyable pair, both giving their characters enough ego to throw sparks but not enough to be more abrasive than likable. They don't try to force some sort of deep affection but they soften enjoyably. Yuan especially has a good knack for playing big, whether it be slapstick or just having Miaomiao need a lesson in how easily success should come. Xu Kejia is a scene-stealer as one of Houzhun's associates, and it's kind of a shame that the early running gag of the petite Miaomiao knocking him out can't last, as he's one of the funniest things the movie's got.

Eventually, "So I Married an Anti-Fan" settles down into being an average romantic comedy (though one, it should be noted, where nobody actually gets married). It's got the charm to work as that, although it might work a little bit better for everybody if all the movie's pieces connected as well as Park Chan-yeol and Yuan Shanshan.

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originally posted: 07/03/16 13:23:51
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Directed by
  Jae-young Kim

Written by

  Chan-yeol Park
  Shanshan Yuan
  Chao Jiang

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