A nicely observed relationship drama about two people who drift together but seem unable to make the final commitment, “Solace” reps an impressive bow by writer-director Byeon Seung-wook that’s too low-key for offshore theatrical but deserves fest dates and some TV pickups. Despite the presence of local name Han Suk-kyu, the pic — far from the perky comedy-romancers favored by young South Korean moviegoers — took in only a mild 200,000 admissions locally late last year.
Han plays buttoned-down Shim In-gu, a pharmacist with a small shop who looks after his retarded younger brother, In-seob (Lee Han-wi), and still lives at home with his mom (Jeong Hye-seon). Into his life comes — very slowly — the much less buttoned-down Lee Hye-ran (Kim Ji-su), who’s always popping by for a headache or hangover cure.
Hye-ran is a clothes designer whose shop is always being busted by the police for illegal copying. Her personal life is also a mess: The family is weighed down by debt, and her younger sister — as custom demands — can’t get married until Hye-ran finds a man.
In-gu and Hye-ran inch slowly toward a relationship that ends up with them both in bed after some serious drinking. But both are wary of making the relationship more than casual, especially Hye-ran. Just when, during a camping trip, it looks like things are clicking, their separate family responsibilities hover into view.
Byeon, an assistant director on Lee Chang-dong’s “Peppermint Candy,” spent five years writing and setting up “Solace,” and the care in the dialogue and casting showsat every stage.
So little actually happens during the movie that even the final trigger seems melodramatic. But perfs by Han (more touching here than usual) and Kim (very different from her sadsack in 2004’s “This Charming Girl”) are so well meshed that the almost two-hour running time hardly seems overstretched.
Helming is unfussy and the technical package fine. Though limited in its ambitions — and neither arty nor mainstream enough to fit into a neat category — “Solace” ranks as one of last year’s most satisfying South Korean pics in terms of accomplishing what it sets out to do. Original title means “Things You Say When You’re in Love … “