My Dear Enemy
Directed by Lee Yoon-ki
While a gender bias among certain genres is universal, it's especially salient in South Korea, where the two most popular genres break down neatly along traditional masculine/feminine lines: romantic comedies for her, gangster films for him. Each trades in gender-based stereotypes, making the former only slightly more bearable than the latter when it comes to my graceless sex (give me loveable oafs over self-important made men any day). Lee Yoon-ki's My Dear Enemy, which screened earlier this year at Tribeca, is a typical example of the former; it made a splash on the domestic and international festival circuit thanks to Park Eun-yeong's screenplay, whose copious dialogue gives the film its much-needed hook: It's a valiant attempt at a modest story of the reconciliation of two ex-lovers. If only that made it feel less like a meandering, ultimately formula-driven, 123 minute trip to a foregone conclusion.
Hee-su (Jeon Do-yeon) is the reluctant girl whose heart was broken a year ago by Byung-woon (Ha Jung-woo); now, she's back in his life to make him pay. Literally: He owes her $3,500 but, being a bullshitting, daydreaming, womanizing manchild, he doesn't have that kind of bread. So Hee-su tags along with him as he scrapes it together from his various female acquaintances, all of whom he swears are "just friends." He hopes Hee-su will buy that and many other apparently insincere lines because he's actually an emotional pygmy. Then again, as one of his exes says, in fluent Romcomese: "Women like that in men."
My Dear Enemy boils down to how well you can tolerate that generically generalized sentiment, which would absolve Byung-woon's character and, by extension, the film's plot in general. The film's purpose is to watch Hee-su change her opinion of Byung-woon from hard-hearted mercenary to what he truly is: a well-meaning moron. Lee and Park accomplish that goal in a couple of the film's better scenes. But never for long enough to make the film more than just a variation on a conventional theme.
Opens November 20 at MoMA