Cinema with Seoul: Petty Romance (2010, Dir. Jeong-Hoon-Il Kim)

It’s not often that I sit giggling in a theater as a result of witnessing the most awkward flirtation imaginable on screen, clapping my hands, and literally bouncing in my seat as a romance unfurls in its own beautiful strangeness. I guess it’s because I’ve been ruined by such hollywood heartbreakers like New Years Eve, Love Actually, and Hugh Grant (the list can go on forever,) that I’ve lost all faith and interest in anything labeled “Romantic Comedy”. But Petty Romance did just that to me, and even though I was skeptical at the start, I left the theater realizing I had just seen a movie that I need to show everyone I know, and probably watch a thousand more times.

I haven’t been this in love with a romantic comedy since the first time I saw My Sassy Girl. And it’s hard to miss My Sassy Girl’s influence, on Petty Romance, in its story structure, its sense of humor, and much of its technique. And although My Sassy Girl is a little more charming, a little cuter, and a little more heart-felt, Petty Romance makes up for what it lacks by being totally sexually subversive (in the sweetest way possible).

Petty Romance follows the lives of two down on their luck characters; Jeong-bae (played by Seon-gyun Lee of Night and Day) a very talented comic artist, whose stories are too unexciting for his publishing company, and Da-rim (played by Kang-hee Choi of Goodbye Mom) a young, cute, very overconfident translator who wants to break into the world of creative writing.

Jeong-bae, directionless after his masterpiece of three years has been rejected, finds himself at another crossroads. His late father bequeathed all his paintings to a trusted gallerist, who is now, against Jeong-bae’s wishes, attempting to sell one of the most meaningful of his father’s works. Jeong-bae’s only option is to buy the painting back, but with no money, he has no means of protecting his past. It’s only when Jeong-bae’s friend, some middle management dodo at a comic publishing company, gathers together a group of comic artists for a contest that Jeong-bae sees his best, last opportunity to regain his father’s work. The proposal? Create a comic for their new Adult comic line. The winner will receive a huge prize. After interviewing many writers, he recruits the supposedly over-qualified Da-rim. Da-rim is, of course, lying through her teeth, after just losing another gig as a sex columnist due to her complete lack of experience. The two butt heads, and what follows is a hysterically crafted slapstick with moments so golden that I don’t want to ruin them.

Petty Romance is beautiful to watch. The cinematography is crisp and the editing is intuitive. But aside from all this, Petty Romance creates two incredibly likeable, interesting characters, almost effortlessly. It sneaks up on you, you don’t even realize how attached you’ve become to Jeong-bae and Da-rim till you catch yourself grimacing at their bickering and silently rooting for them to get it over with and get it on. In addition to this, Petty Romance uses its comic book fueled plot line to incorporate animation here and there in the film, keeping the task at hand in the foreground even once we’re way more interested in the developing relationship of the two leads. Scattered bursts of various animation styles become a channel for the two characters’ desires and fantasies, and despite being a little gimmicky, it’s really fun and really funny.

It was like a breath of fresh air seeing a female character in a movie being allowed to be a human being. Da-rim is cute without being impossibly gorgeous, she dresses like a regular person, acts like a regular person, she’s a pervert, she makes mistakes, and she is super weird and even more awkward. Da-rim even poops on screen. In a hollywood film, a woman is never allowed to do something as human as make a poop in a movie unless she weighs upwards of 350 pounds. And what’s truly wonderful, is the way the romance has been framed in this rom-com. According to my female editor, Jeong-bae is an unbearably good-looking stud. He’s experienced, sexy, and totally captivates Da-rim; a gender reversal from what just about everyone would expect from a studio film. Da-rim doesn’t know the first thing about sex, but she’s obsessed with it. The weird, nerdy, sex-hungry guy always gets the beautiful girl, not the other way around.

Hopefully, by now I’ve now sold you on how good this film is, and you really want to see it. Like so many of my favorite Asian films, even though this movie is a few years old, it’s not available in the states yet. But you know what? Neither is My Sassy Girl. And if you’ve seen that, with its babelfish translated subtitles, I trust you have the skills to find this film too.

Stills:

Watch the Petty Romance trailer below. It’s not subbed, but even if you can’t speak Korean (like myself,) its worth watching.

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