×

Romance Joe

Overlapping narratives-within-narratives abound in "Romance Joe," but a puzzle-like resolution never arrives in South Korean helmer Lee Kwang-kuk's fanciful first feature.

With:
With: Kim Yeong-pil, Shin Dong-mi, Lee Chae-eun, David Lee, Jo Han-cheol, Ryu Ui-hyeon, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kim Su-ung, Park Hye-jin.

Overlapping narratives-within-narratives abound in “Romance Joe,” some carefully set up while others are thrust to the fore without warning, but a puzzle-like resolution never arrives in South Korean helmer Lee Kwang-kuk’s fanciful first feature. Longtime assistant director to arthouse fave Hong Sang-soo, Lee shares his mentor’s predilection for making movies about moviemakers, seldom to their glorification, as well as his love of informal, often drunken encounters between characters. The pic’s difficult-to-follow intersecting storylines make theatrical distribution a longshot outside Asia, but its whirligig inventiveness and strong characterizations assure international fest play.

Four main stories crisscross throughout the film, most of them connected in some way with the title character and the subject of suicide, or at least attempted suicide (many players sport matching wrist-slit scars). The self-inflicted death of a famous actress, apparently distraught over rumors circulating about her, hovers over the proceedings, though the actress herself is never seen. Romance Joe (Kim Yeong-pil), an assistant director who worked closely with her, appears to have been the most profoundly affected, renouncing filmmaking and traveling to the site of their last production to end his own life.

But in the peculiar context of this film about filmmaking, every tiny action becomes a potential new scenario, and every cast member a potential new storyteller.

By far the most accomplished and engaging of these is Re-ji (Shin Dong-mi), a teahouse employee who delivers beverages and/or herself to guests at a nearby hotel. When director Lee (Jo Han-cheol) is left stranded at that hotel by his producer, forcing the helmer to write his next screenplay, Re-ji tempts him into paying for her evening by hooking him on the story of Romance Joe, a guest at the same hotel sometime earlier, whose aborted suicide she walked in on.

Within the framework of Re-ji’s remembrance of the incident, Romance Joe’s near-death experience flashes him back to his teen years, when he rescued fellow student Kim Cho-hui (Lee Chae-eun), who slit her wrists in the woods, the victim of a tattletale lover. Kim then figures in further accounts, including the story of her young son (Ryu Ui-hyeon), temporarily taken under wing by the omnipresent Re-ji.

Despite the overt playfulness with which he treats his whimsically enfolded narratives and his less-than-positive, Hong-like depictions of male film folk, helmer Lee invests his characters and their desultory adventures with an emotional resonance that never tips over into parody or melodrama. Shin in particular infuses Re-ji with a Paula Prentiss-like mix of provincial earthiness and sophisticated insight that proves a delight to watch. And David Lee, as a young Romance Joe, manages to wrest surprising pathos from his character’s youthful terror when faced with the mature self-possession of a girl his own age.

Visually, the helmer lacks Hong’s casual lyricism and profound sense of place. Nevertheless, the stop-and-go rhythms of his tangential plots create a fairy-tale space-time continuum all their own.

Romance Joe

South Korea

Production: A Cine 21i presentation of a Bori Pictures production. (International sales: M-Line Distribution, Seoul.) Produced by Yim Soon-rye. Executive producer, Kim Sang-yoon. Directed, written by Lee Kwang-kuk.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Jee Yune-jeong; editor, Son Yeon-ji; music, Park Jin-seok; sound, Yoon Jong-min; supervising sound editor, Seo Young-jun. Reviewed on DVD, New York, March 25, 2012. (In New Directors/New Films; 2011 Busan Film Festival.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With: With: Kim Yeong-pil, Shin Dong-mi, Lee Chae-eun, David Lee, Jo Han-cheol, Ryu Ui-hyeon, Kim Dong-hyeon, Kim Su-ung, Park Hye-jin.

More Film

  • The Band Doc 'Once Were Brothers'

    Robbie Robertson Documentary 'Once Were Brothers' to Open Toronto Film Festival

    “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” will rock the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary recounts the story of one of Canada’s musical legends — a man who served as both lead guitarist and primary songwriter on a group that introduced the likes of “The Weight” and “The Night [...]

  • Rounds

    Stephan Komandarev and Catalin Mitulescu Films Among Sarajevo's 23 World Premieres

    The latest films from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev and Romania’s Catalin Mitulescu are among 23 world premieres competing for the Heart of Sarajevo awards at the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival. Komandarev’s 2017 film “Directions” played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and his 2008 opus, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” was [...]

  • Tommy JamesCousin Brucie 3rd Annual Palisades

    Tommy James Biopic 'Me, the Mob and the Music' in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pop music star Tommy James and film producer Barbara DeFina are developing the biopic “Me, the Mob and the Music,” based on James’ autobiography. DeFina, whose credits include Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” and James have tapped three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall to helm the film adaptation from a screenplay by Matthew Stone (“Intolerable [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate

    Comic-Con: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Cast Will Hit Reddit Live-Streamed AMA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Arnold is back — and he and other cast members of “Terminator: Dark Fate” are joining a first-of-its-kind live-streaming Reddit AMA on Thursday from Comic-Con International in San Diego. For the new installment in the “Terminator” franchise, Paramount Pictures is hosting a traditional Comic-Con panel Thursday 11 a.m.-12 noon in Hall H. Then, a few [...]

  • Pedestrians walk past a large screen

    Johnny Kitagawa: Power, Abuse, and the Japanese Media Omerta

    Will the death of Johnny Kitagawa lead to a change of attitude by the Japanese media to the powerful Johnny & Associates talent agency that he formed? Public broadcaster NHK and others this week reported a warning to the company from the Fair Trade Commission over alleged pressure on TV stations to keep members of [...]

  • Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night

    Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night Film ‘Knuckle City’

    DURBAN–Dudu Nyakama is an aging boxer whose best fighting days are behind him. But for a man whose only glory has come in the ring, a big prize fight offers the one shot at saving his family, dragging him into the criminal underbelly of the gritty township he’s spent his whole life trying to escape. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content