Gwangshiki Dongsaeng Gwangtae
South Korea, 2005
Review by Jenny Jediny
Posted on 07 September 2006
Source VHS screener
Features: The New York Korean Film Festival
Kim Hyeon-seok’s feature film debut is an offbeat romantic comedy, focusing on the tribulations and romantic entanglements of two brothers wrestling not only with their own self-image, but also the pain and frustration associated with unrequited love. The brothers are, in the tradition of the genre, inevitably quite different in personality and romantic approach; Kwang-tae has a laidback, hipster image and hinges relationship break-ups on his “buy 11, get one free” frequent coffee cards while his older brother Kwang-shik is an introverted, almost painfully shy photographer with a perpetual crush on a girl he has known since high school.
The film splits the brothers’ stories in half, focusing on first Kwang-shik and later Kwang-tae, inevitably tying them together in the final act. While the premise is somewhat conventional, Kim’s characters are not only well conceived, but also infused with a sense of wry humor that is quite engaging. Kwang-shik’s slow but eventual transformation from impossibly shy (and practically masochistic) to something reasonably close to self-confident is both emotionally sympathetic as it is humorous. Most notably, his romantic pursuit of Yoon Kyung is punctuated by moments involving karaoke. While teenagers’ expressing their emotions via musical interludes remains not only a familiar but also a popular narrative film device, director Kim practically winks at the viewer while pulling off moments that not only reference more famous musical serenades (Say Anything’s boom-box scene is gently referenced during Kwang-shik’s initial singing opportunity) but also push the notion of whimsy just far enough that they are both funny and endearing.
Kwang-tae, while as lovable as his brother, has a slightly more routine love story with a woman who dumps him, viewing him as an unsalvageable project. This power shift, a seemingly novel one to Kwang-tae, convinces him that he has been rejected by his true love, constructing an amusing if somewhat superficial conclusion for his character.
When Romance Meets Destiny is fairly buoyant, yet more engaging than the presently deflated romantic comedy genre, which – at least in Hollywood – seems lately besotted with unruly, frattish bachelors and uninspired dialogue. Kim Hyeon-seok’s film successfully captures the often unreasonable nature of romance, as its idiosyncratic dialogue and appealing brotherly bond manage to give the film a notable, if insubstantial appeal.