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Crush and Blush

The spirit (but not the intellectual rigor) of "Oldboy" helmer Park Chan-wook is strongly evident in the clumsily titled "Crush and Blush," a black comedy of distaff emotional vengeance that starts running out of gas at the halfway mark.

With:
With: Gong Hyo-jin, Lee Jong-hyeok, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Seo Woo, Bang Eun-jin, Bong Jun-ho.

The spirit (but not the intellectual rigor) of “Oldboy” helmer Park Chan-wook is strongly evident in the clumsily titled “Crush and Blush,” a black comedy of distaff emotional vengeance that starts running out of gas at the halfway mark. Produced by Park himself through his shingle, Moho Film, and directed by alumna Lee Kyoung-mi, making her feature debut, this has potential as a fest sidebar item on the strength of Park’s rep but not enough variation in its concept to break out farther. Locally, pic has clocked up a so-so 500,000 admissions since mid-October release.

Film is a showcase for actress Gong Hyo-jin (one of the investigating girls in high school ghost story “Memento Mori”), who has a field day wearing bulky duds and Plain Jane makeup as doofus Yang Mi-suk. Demoted from teaching Russian at a high school to teaching English (a language she can’t even understand) at a junior high school, Yang is a seething pool of resentment whose face unfortunately turns bright red when she blushes — which is often. (Pic’s Korean title translates as “Miss Carrot.”)

Yang carries a torch for fellow teacher Seo Jong-cheol (Lee Jong-hyeok), under whom she studied 10 years ago. Problem is, her beautiful and popular fellow teacher, Lee Yu-ri (newcomer Hwang Woo-seul-hye), is canoodling with the married Seo — apparently with the knowledge of Seo’s wife, ice queen Eun-gyo (Bang Eun-jin), who wants a divorce.

Still dreaming she stands more than an iceberg’s chance in hell, Yang enlists the help of the couple’s naive daughter, student Jong-heui (Seo Woo), to torpedo the relationship. Her plan involves delaying the divorce (so Seo won’t be free to remarry) and then screwing with Lee’s mind in Internet chatrooms.

The very Park-ian idea of centering on a character who, by all reasonable terms, is obsessive to the point of madness — plus the very misanthropic tone — makes the movie’s first half a treat. Gong’s clever portrayal of her character’s mood switches — spinning on a dime between nice and nasty — and the quirky music and direction give pic a very different flavor from that of most South Korean comedies, even the blacker ones.

However, when Yang turns against Seo at the hour mark, the tone starts to pall. The finale, with all characters having it out, courtroom-style, in the school’s language lab, is needlessly repetitive.

Casting is fine, with Bang coming through strongly in the later stages as Seo’s wife. Role of Seo is weakly written.

Park himself can be briefly glimpsed in a walk-on, and “The Host” helmer Bong Joon-ho cameos as a doctor. English subtitles on print caught were poor, harming full comprehension of the plot and not fully reflecting the humor in the dialogue.

Crush and Blush

South Korea

Production: A Big House release, presented with Vantage Holdings, of a Moho Film production. (International sales: Fine Cut, Seoul.) Produced by Park Chan-wook. Executive producers, Jeong Eui-seok, Kim Sun-yong. Co-producer, Lee Min-su. Directed by Lee Kyoung-mi. Screenplay, Lee, Park Eun-gyo, Park Chan-wook.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Kim Dong-yeong; editor, Shin Min-gyeong; music, Jang Yeong-gyu; production designer, Hwang Ju-hye; costume designer, Son Na-ri; sound (Dolby Digital), Gang Ju-seok, Choi Tae-yeong; assistant director, Son Jae-hyeok. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (Korean Cinema Today -- Panorama), Oct. 7, 2008. Running time: 103 MIN.

With: With: Gong Hyo-jin, Lee Jong-hyeok, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Seo Woo, Bang Eun-jin, Bong Jun-ho.

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