PETTY ROMANCE (2010)
, South Korean Romantic Comedy about a down-on-his-luck comic book artist and out-of-work sex columnist (who also happens to be a virgin) who team up to write an Adult Comic for a contest.
3.5 out of 5: Story a little predictable, but engaging characters.
One of the dangers of getting into a "mode" of watching non-US films is that it brings into sharp focus just how weak US film making has become. Yes, the big Hollywood studios crank out money makers that are (occasionally) entertaining, but the holes seem to be getting bigger and the shortcomings even more....lazy.
For the last year (or two?), I've shifted my personal moving watching (as opposed to family time movies) to 'foreign' films, and when I discovered what was to me a gold mine in South Korean movies, I admit to being quite surprised. The glimpses into Korean culture - often very subtle differences but glaring nonetheless - were educational, and the exposure to the Korean language was interesting as well. The more I watched, the more I sought out Korean films of any genre.
The example of PETTY ROMANCE illustrates the draw. The story line is a bit predictable; there are hints of the dreaded "Romantic Comedy Formula" that I've come to hate, but what sets this movie far above most of the Hollywood RomComs I've seen in the last...10-15 years at least...is the characters.
The very short version is...I could not stop watching the story unfold because I cared about the characters. They were three dimensional, flawed humans made all the more interesting for being part of a different culture, but struggling with "life" as a universal, cross-cultural constant.
THIS is what US RomComs have been largely getting wrong (for me as a movie viewer) for quite some time. The cliched story lines, tired tropes, weak direction all can be, in my opinion, overlooked if the characters resonate. US RomCom characters largely do NOT resonate, and more often than not, I literally hate them with burning, seething fire by the end of the first act. There are exceptions; I rooted for Dorfman in DORFMAN IN LOVE, for example, and that movie was as formulaic and predictable as could possibly be. But taken on the whole, American made RomCom characters make me sick.
With strong characterization as a foundation, PETTY ROMANCE delivers an entertaining, engaging little story that is well worth the watch, and there are some "laugh out loud" idiosyncratic moments as well.