To kick start the whole shebang that is the Jeonju Film Festival, I deliberately picked a crowd pleasing, popcorn-selling comedy. It had already been previously released, and had gathered a fair number of good reviews, though it didn’t really make that big a dent in the box-office. Nevertheless, it has a fairly interesting premise, which was the main reason why I decided to go along for it.
At the same time, there are certain movies that transmits itself (telepathically, ho hum) about its true nature. I know that as the festival goes on, I would have my fair share of dark, brooding, character pieces that explores issues of sexuality, identity and nationality, so I’d best get my chops in before someone turns off the lights.
Little did I know of just how dark, brooding, and…err, characteristic ‘Tony Manero’ would be later that night. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
‘The ESP Couple’ (초감각 커플) is not that far from being character pieces themselves. In truth, it only ever focuses on two characters, and no one else. Su-min (Jin Goo, 진구), is a college going young man who likes spending time in galleries. One day, when he is admiring some paintings in a gallery, he hears someone screaming for help. He turns, wondering where the voice came from, but finds only Hyun-jin (Park Bo-yeong, 박보영), a high school girl. She pesters him, annoying to the point that he leaves the gallery, and goes to a park…only to find her there as well. It is here that she realises that he has a very special ability: the ability to read people’s minds.
If she can read that she is annoying him, then it doesn’t really register, because she continues to pester him, non-stop. As they stumble into an ongoing kidnapping case, Hyun-jin realises that he can use his abilities to help solve the case. Despite the best of his insistences, he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper not only into the said case, but also into Hyun-jin herself…
OK, so I put the … in the above paragraph for dramatic effect. But let’s face it, we can all see where this is going to end up. And to be honest, there’s no other ending that we ever really want. But I will say this, though: though the end may be clear, the journey to the end may yet turn out a few surprises for you. Peeling away the layers of that Chinese proverb-like sentence, despite feeling very strongly that the end would be a happy one, there’s a fair number of twists and turns along the way that comes out at you without announcing themselves. It is popcorn, but one with its own taste.
That journey, for the most part, relies largely on the chemistry between Jin Goo and Park Bo-yeong. It reminds me somewhat of ‘My Sassy Girl’, another tale of the reluctant guy being chased by a cute but mysterious girl (that’s another different tasting popcorn). There, the chemistry is not only strong, but it is also one that broke new grounds. Since then, many others have tried to replicate that (‘Baby and Me’ is a complete waste of time), but here’s a film that gets close to replicating that. The complete opposite nature of the two helps, but I have to admit, it is Park Bo-yeong’s ability to look totally, utterly, butterly cute that influences this review. Jin Goo, on the other hand, doesn’t have a difficult time playing the straight guy here. He’s the one who’s reluctant to use his powers, even in dire and desperate situations. Witness the hilarious restaurant sequence, when Hyun-jin pushes Su-min to get them a free lunch. Asking random strangers as to whether they’ve done any rock-climbing also doesn’t rank very highly on the normal-o-meter. But it is the quirkiness that is charming in its own way.
If you notice why I haven’t talked about any of the other characters…that’s because there aren’t any. OK, well, there are others, but they’re really not worth mentioning. Even as the credits roll up, beyond Hyun-jin and Su-min, all you ever get are ‘Investigating squad leader’, ‘Empty-headed detective’, ‘Research Director’, and so on. They all serve their roles, however; this is ‘The ESP Couple’, after all, not ‘The ESP Couple and Friends’.
It helps that the script has its details fleshed out well enough that everything makes sense by the end. A Michael Bay film, this is not. The director gets top marks from me for keeping things simple. She doesn’t promise the earth, but she delivers something that goes beyond expectations. Also, I have to mention that I really, really like the neat cinematography. That’s the only word that comes to mind. Neat. And clean. The scenes are all well-lit, the focus perfectly on the right spot, the camera movements smooth and steady when needed, and unintrudingly still at other parts. It is one of the most beautifully-filmed digital films I have seen.
Beautiful. Now there’s a word I haven’t used to described a commercial film for a while. Beautiful actors, beautiful shots, beautiful set designs, a simple story simply well-told.
Fikri realised that it’s been a while since he last saw romantic comedies. This film is one of the Jeonju 10.