My Dear Enemy

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/26/09 02:15:11

"A Korean anti-"Before Sunrise" ("After Sunset"?)."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Kim Hee-su (Jeon Do-yeon) is talking about money and investments as "My Dear Enemy" opens, but it's not clear whether she needs money urgently or just wants it for some opportunity. Or perhaps, she simply wants to close the book on Cho Byung-woon (Ha Jung-woo), who borrowed $3500 from her a year ago and has not called since. Each situation would cast her in a different light, but her behavior gives little in the way of a hint; her tense, pinched demeanor could fit with any of them, and she's not volunteering information.

She finds him at the track, and as might be expected, he doesn't have the money. But he intends to pay her back, even though he's in somewhat of a financial bind himself. He just needs to visit a few people. Hee-su doesn't trust him much, so she goes along. Naturally, almost all the stops along the way are women.

My Dear Enemy is a "walking movie", where two people spend the entire running time crisscrossing a city and talking, but director Lee Yoon-ki and Park Eun-yeong leave many things unrevealed all the way to the end. The audience will get some information about the characters' pasts and presents, but by no means enough to paint a complete picture. Instead, they give us just enough that the film does not seem deliberately oblique, but also plenty of room for the cast to create their own interpretations - and for the audience to fill in the gaps as they please from those performances.

Neither is going to be completely positive or negative. Take Ha Jung-woo as Byung-woon, for instance. The word we most often hear to describe him is "immature", and it's fitting enough. He gets away with it somewhat because he's got a baby face that makes him look younger than he is, but there's an undeniable charm to him. What Jung-woo does best is to make it unclear whether this charm is something that is being consciously exploited at any moment, or just what comes naturally. Early on, we know he's working it with older businesswoman Mrs. Han (Kim Hye-ok), but what's the deal with Hee-su? Is he flirting because he likes her and always has, because he thinks he can get her to change her mind about him (and he could use the favor of a prosperous-looking woman), or because that's just what he does by reflex? It's easy to believe he's genuine, but he could just be charming us.

Jeon Do-yeon, on the other hand, makes Hee-su harder to approach. She smiles rarely, enough that we analyze it each time it happens. She's chilly, but also seems to take everything personally, even insults to Byung-woon. Frustration never leaves her face, but there's also the sense that she's putting some effort into it, because she knows that Byung-woon can get into her head.

As this is a walking movie, careful attention is paid to locations. They are not necessarily unusually beautiful, or especially noteworthy sections of Seoul, but each place has a personality that matches the people found there. A private rooftop driving range shows us that Mrs. Han is powerful but not as cold or joyless as Hee-su seems; another rooftop, where Byung-won's cousin lives, is improvised, vulnerable to the harsh Korean wind (and the bitter comments of his wife), but also a convivial gathering place. The cinematography is also quite impressive, not just for the continuous moving shots, but in how the panoramic frame always seems to fit two people when it's just Hee-su and Byung-woon.

"My Dear Enemy" has been labeled a romance in many of the descriptions I've seen, but I think that may be a bit of a stretch. It's the post-mortem to one, as Hee-su revisits everything she loved and disliked about Byung-woon through these other women. That's a bit of a sad thing, but engrossing in its own right.

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