Guilt and disappointment generate wry amusement and genuine laughter in “Second Half.” The helming debut of South Korean producer David Cho (“My Dear Enemy,” “Rough Cut”), this light relationship yarn has all the semiautobiographical hallmarks of a vanity project, but is surprisingly superior to the usual low-budget copies of Hong Sang-soo, the patron saint of Korean relationship films. Even Hong’s films struggle locally, so domestic B.O. for this impending late-October release will be minimal. Pic is well positioned to travel the fest circuit.
After his latest film flops at the box office, established but cash-strapped producer Cho In-sung (Ryu Seung-soo) decides to get out of Seoul to escape debt collectors and bad reviews. On a whim, he drives to the seaside town of Donghae, where he encounters attractive 20-year-old waitress Mina (Esom).
Being a film fan, Mina is drawn to Cho, and the womanizing cineaste is likewise drawn to Mina. But because of the girl’s resemblance to a one-night stand he had 20 years before, Cho suspects Mina may be his daughter. Partly to clarify the issue and partly out of a sense of parental responsibility, he engages Mina to be his local tour guide as he “researches” a new film project.
Cho quickly uncovers that Mina lives with her grandmother. Excursions to cafes and local tourist spots lead to chance meetings with Mina’s friends and relatives, which reveal how much she’s adored by her community (everyone calls her “Our Mina”). Much to Cho’s frustration, however, the vital details of her parentage remain elusive.
Ryu gives a pleasing perf as the beleaguered producer who is not quite as smart or observant as he thinks he is. As Mina, fashion model Esom is charming, if a bit stiff. Larger supporting roles are well played by entertaining character actors, but smaller, incidental parts are taken by actual Donghae residents; a post-credits sequence shows all the local restaurant proprietors and other cameo characters waving goodbye to the camera.
Unlike Hong’s films, which build emotional complication upon emotional complication, scripter-helmer Cho is content to explore every nook and cranny of feeling in his simple scenario. His well-structured and nicely paced script has a fine eye for human foibles, and a deftly set-up running gag about a local gigolo pays hilarious dividends.
Helming is plain but effective. Pic was shot on the Red camera, but doesn’t look much better than other washed-out, low-budget Korean indies. Sound quality is pro.