Love FictionReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/20/12 13:41:24
SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Love Fiction" is a romantic comedy that never quite gels, despite a pair of fairly likable leads and Jeon Kye-soo's script having a quirky, individual voice. The trouble is that said voice is often using unusual words to say the same old thing: Guy meets girl, they fall in love despite their own baggage, guy selfishly does something she has specifically asked him not to do, and then must try to pick up the pieces.The couple in question is Joo-wol (Ha Jung-woo), a writer racking his brain over his second novel who also tends bar and plays bass for a band called "Romantic Chimpanzee", and Hee-jin (Kong Hyo-jin), a film buyer who grew up in Alaska. They actually meet in Berlin, where Joo-wol's publisher (Jo Hie-bong) has dragged the German-speaking Joo-wol along to translate, and reconnect in Seoul. They've both got their share of quirks, but some of Hee-jin's make it into Joo-wol's pulp serial.
Ha Jung-woo and Kong Hyo-jin give Love Fiction what should be a fairly solid base; they're attractive folks with good chemistry on-screen and they are both able to take the eccentric characters that writer/director Jeon Kye-soo gives them and show quirk without making them the sort of weird or off-putting that makes the audience wonder how they function in society (at least, not for their basic personalities as opposed to some of their later actions). Especially early on, Ha does a nice job of communicating just how frustrating it is to not be making any progress on something you need and want to do, and how that connects with and reinforces every other bit of self-doubt in one's life.
Kong, meanwhile, is at a bit of a disadvantage in some ways; while the script goes overboard in giving Joo-wol ways to express himself, Hee-jin doesn't have the same sort of supporting cast surrounding her that he does. The audience therefore has to get to know Hee-jin by the way she says things or reacts as opposed to her direct statements, and she manages that quite nicely. Hee-jin could just be a bunch of quirks glued together, but Kong Hyo-jin makes them into a complete person.
The trouble is that once Jeon has put the pair together, the filmmaker seems kind of lost in terms of what to do with them. So we get a tired story where both Joo-wol and Hee-jin do something that the other might find embarrassing, and Joo-wol is a hypocritical jerk about it, and a pretty simple story drags out. There's ways to make that feel fresh, but Jeon doesn't find them; instead, we get more quirk, and the quirks seem to be very obvious ornamentation on a too-familiar skeleton. More frustrating is the occasional impression that Jeon had backstories and lives laid out for both main characters but didn't include them beyond the superficial; it could have really been about these two as opposed to just following standard beats.
And the ornamentation isn't actually that great, itself. Jeon gives Joo-wol a lot more people to play off than he needs - the publisher, three bandmates, a brother, and a "multi-man" figment of his imagination (Lee Byung-joon) who can pop up in any guise depending on where he needs to have a discussion with his subconscious - and also has the cast act out scenes from the pulp story Joo-wol is writing. Few if these bits are particularly inspired, and there's enough of them to make Love Fiction a fairly long movie for a rather simple story.Worse, it provides nudges toward "he doesn't deserve her category". And that's a real shame, because both Hee-jin and Joo-wol start out individual and interesting, and deserve a story to match.
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