Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cyrano Agency


I forgot to mention that the movie rabbit and I saw on Sunday was called Cyrano Agency (시라노; 연애조작단). I rather liked it.

It seems to me that there are three general types of movies released in Korea: 1) The Rom-Com (usually full of slapstick and cheese), 2) The Melodrama (usually full-to-overflowing with maximum tear-inducing music and heart-wrenching situations), and 3) The graphic and exploitively violent revenge films such as Oldboy and most others from Park Chan Wook.

Truth is, I can be a sucker for all of these types of films. And I know that there are plenty of sub-genres that have gained popularity: the police procedural and the underdog sports story (usually with a seasonally positioned box office release to capitalize on the national fervor surrounding whatever sport the nation might soon be competing in on the international stage) to name a couple.

Okay, maybe I'm done with the Korean sports movies, but truly I have found something worthwhile in almost all of the Korean films I've had the chance to see in my time here. It's a funny thing - the rabbit, being of the female pursuasion, has a curiosity for the "chick-flick". As a result, I have in good-humour accompanied her to such painful cinematic experiences as Eat, Pray, Love, Letters to Juliet, and... well, apparently I have thankfully forgotten the others. You know what though? It's kind of fun in a way to see a kind of movie that I would otherwise never seek out on my own. I am not dragging the rabbit to Transformers 2 in retaliation either - that holds no interest for me, and to be honest, there's more laughable entertainment value in watching Julia Roberts attempt to elicit pathos as she travels around the world feeling sorry for her lot in life.

Yes, these movies are rather terrible, but there is something kind of charming about seeing them with a Korean audience. Let me try to explain. I in no way am suggesting that the Korean film-goer's bar is lower, I am instead suggesting that maybe there is more forgiveness for cheese when viewed through the lens of a non-native speaker. Watching Amanda Seyfried prance about the hills of Northerm Italy would seem appealing to most Seoullites. I get it... even if I thought the movie blew chucks of mediocrity that I had a hard time wiping from my glasses. The same could be said for Julia Roberts' shab fest, and that one had pedigree.

With the shoe on the other foot, I can kind of use the same logic for how I feel about watching Korean movies in general. I can be a sucker for a well-made Korean romance. They charm the socks right off of me in most cases. At their best (My Sassy Girl, 2001) they are fun and quirky and the portions of giggly zaniness and actual emotion seems just about perfect. At their worst (The Classic, 2003, sadly by the same writer/director as My Sassy Girl), the melodrama just takes the movie into an irreversible nose-dive. It actually angers me.

Thankfully, the latest Korean rom-com experience was a winning one for the rabbit and I. Cyrano Agency is a story about a group of out-of-work theatre actors who run a cupid service for love-lorn Seoullites. Guy #1 comes to them because he's crushing on a coffee shop clerk, and the crew use all manner of manufactured romantic circumstance to bring them together. It's a pretty fun and rather ingenius opening 20 minutes as we see the group work their magic.

Things take a turn when another man turns-up saying that he's fallen for a free-spirited girl at his church. The dude is expectedly awkward, perhaps too much so (if the film has a fault, it lies with this performance), and he needs all the help he can get. The twist is that the girl in question happens to be the ex-girlfriend of the agency's leader. Naturally, he tries to not accept the client, but the group needs money, and he needs to get over this girl. Of course, helping a however sweet-natured doofus mack on the girl you've never gotten over can't be a lot of fun.

The movie is predictable in places, but its situations are ones easily identified with for anyone who's ever had to watch someone else move in on the person who still has your heart. In the end, it's a satisfying movie, and yet I can't help but think that if this were an American picture in English with well-known English stars, it would slip a few rungs on the ladder of appeal - at least for me. It is what it is.

Anyway, if you're looking for a fun and involving romantic comedy, you could do a lot worse than Cyrano Agency. The word on the street was that nobody had really high expectations for this movie when it was released in theatres in the late summer of last year. They were pleasantly surprised and word of mouth spread - leading it to be the number one film in South Korea for 3 weeks running.

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