South Korea, 2005
Review by Teddy Blanks
Posted on 07 September 2006
Source VHS screener
Features: The New York Korean Film Festival
In his explanation of the auteur theory, Andrew Sarris talked about the interior meaning of a film as being extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his material. He was referring to directors like Hitchcock and Preminger who often worked with scripts from a variety of writers but managed to stamp each of their pictures with an unmistakable visual style. When that style helped expose a theme or message that was at odds with or otherwise unexplored in the screenplay, Sarris considered it a triumph of the director. But what of the situations in which film/screenplay tension is present, but the movie’s script was written by its director? What about when a director’s personality is plain for all to see, but it only makes the story more confusing, without adding any “interior meaning”? Rules of Dating feels a little like what would happen if the script for a Lifetime television drama about harassment in the workplace fell into the hands of one of the lesser French New Wave directors. It is dark, shot with a shaky hand-held camera, and uses frequent jump cuts to break up conversation, sometimes well and sometimes overzealously.
Rules of Dating, which is director Han Jae-rim’s debut feature, has been listed and marketed as a romantic comedy, and it is anything but. It tells the story of a student teacher at a junior high who is pursued relentlessly and inappropriately by her superior, one of the school’s teachers. His advances are blatant, despicable, and culminate in a disturbing rape scene the characters in the film seem to forget immediately afterwards. This is where the “tension” between the “director’s personality” and his “material” comes in: after the rape, the interactions between the characters are depicted in a meet-cute romance movie montage, and they begin a sort of love affair. The script and impressive acting from Park He-il and the tiny, beautiful Kang Hye-jeong both portray a devastating scenario: a pitiable, disturbed man using his influence and position to seduce his teaching assistant, and all the complicated human emotions that go along with such a situation. But the editing, music, and design of the film suggest something completely different: that these two people are simply having an innocent love affair.
The ending is the first mention of the rape. She finally exposes him for what he is, and he is fired from his teaching position, giving her vindication and the audience a little relief. That they get back together afterwards is either honest and daring, or morally disgraceful.