When a cinema does the legwork for you, hand choosing films that offer the potential to discover or rediscover genres, directors and the diversity that cinema can offer, it's both refreshing and intriguing. Every Thursday, as part of its Auteurnative season, the lovely little Genesis Cinema in East London is showing an array of interesting handpicked films; celebrating both the diversity of cinema and the magic that comes from a director's individual style and vision. The latest film is a Korean Romantic Comedy from Jeon-Hoon-Il called Petty Romance. It's his first film and far more inventive than the genre and the title would have you think.
Jeon-Hoon-Il uses the Korean equivalent of manga – manhwa, as inspiration for his romantic comedy, pushing generic boundaries and introducing audiences to a new juxtaposition of styles and ideas. In this film a comic artist and an unemployed sex columnist are trying to work together in order to win a lucrative comic-book competition. The plot is pretty standard rom- com stuff, but this film plays with styles to really shake up what is often a pretty stale and predictable genre.
The central characters’ courtship is a great contrast to the work they are completing together. Both Lee Seon-gyun and Choi Kang-hee are actually quite innocent and guarded, merely projecting stronger facades and creating stories for each other in order to hide insecurities. The development of their relationship is a power struggle and quite a believable bond develops through their banter and often unpredictable and sometimes manipulative behaviour. The characters come together as they work out what they don't want from a fantasy, a narrative and life to realise what they do actually want – you can surely guess what that is! This sets the film apart from many other rom coms. Although the outcome is predictable, the character's relationship is realistically complex, frustrating and often very funny.
Yes, this film isn't short of clichés but its humour is endearing and the use of animation very impressive. The film is relatively explicit, but this comes from the animation and is used to add to the overall humour and light-hearted tone of the film, preventing it from feeling seedy and gratuitous. The sex is stripped of its general taboos, neither used for power or titillation. The characters use it to gage each other’s reactions and essentially they dance around each other trying to understand the other person's behaviour and reactions. When they do finally embark on a physical relationship it is very funny and endearing because of pressures to live up to what society has created for them. Basically the film seems to be talking about how comic fantasy sex (and life) is flawless but in reality a relationship is about embracing what is as unpredictable as another person – their insecurities and quirks, to come together and laugh and enjoy each other’s imperfections.
Relationship waffle aside, the use of manhwa animation in this film is what really sets it apart from many other romantic comedies. It is violent, brave and pushes audiences, adding to the overall pace of the film. Each animation scene is both highly entertaining and ambitious and each scene varies in style adding new elements to the film. The manhwa breaks up the frustrations, intensity and sentimentality of reality to offer an insight into the protagonist's thoughts, feelings and fantasies and provide escapism and entertainment.
You don't have to like romantic comedies or comics to enjoy this film. It's funny, entertaining and light hearted but at the same time pushes so many boundaries that it feels totally refreshing. It's great to see the much overly egged romantic comedy formula used in a new and experimental way.