Lee Won-suk’s third film after The Royal Tailor and How To Use Guys With Secret Tips comes by way of Killing Romance, a comedy with its own whimsical spin on the “wife-kills-husband” movie subgenre. Directing from a script by Park Jung-ye who’s penned films such as Cheer Up Mr. Lee and the award-winning The Beauty Inside, Killing Romance stars Lee Sun-kyun of Parasite fame, and reunites Extreme Job cohorts Lee Ha-nee and Gong Myung.
Opening up with a kids TV show-style story reading in pan/scan format, Killing Romance initiates with an English-speaking narrator that invites you into the glitzy and glamorous world of Yeo-rae (Lee Ha-nee), a film and TV star whose screen resume, picturesque charm and Guiness world record-holding status for fastest in soft-drinking speed have rocketed her to fame and fortune. Her latest ambitious sci-fi effort, however, proves to be a bust, making her a laughing stock with audiences and forcing her to turn her efforts to Qualla, an island in the South Pacific Ocean where she meets, and is successively swept off of her feet by über-successful global land developer Jonathan Na (Lee Sun-kyun), hyper-confident and brimming with his own swag and self-assuredness and accompanied at almost all times by his bodyguard, Bob, and aided by twins, “the Susans”.
Meanwhile, Bum-woo (Myung) is trapped behind his siblings in his fourth year trying to pass exams to get into university. He’s also a huge – like, SUPER huge – fan of Yeo-rae, and little does he know that his home will soon sit right next to the fortress-like spectacle that is Jonathan’s home, decked out with its own motion censor-powered spotlight. Ultimately that means both he and Yeo-rae discovering each other not only as neighbors, but also as confidants given Bum-woo’s vociferous fanfare. For that matter, the jovial Bum-woo eventually learns the true nature of Yeo-rae’s marriage; It’s bad enough that the flame that was once there is all but gone for Yeo-rae – it also turns out that on top of being a self-loving high-off-his-own-supply narcissist whose overbearing God-complex supercedes any and all presumptive notions of douchebaggery, Jonathan Na is also a manipulative tool bag who tortures Yeo-rae by cornering her and fast-balling tangerines in her direction when she steps out of line.
I’m reminded of the brief subplot carried by Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist character who meets his fate in Frank Oz’s Little Shop Of Horrors when push comes to shove and Rick Moranis’s Seymour is resigned to doing the unthinkable. Nope, no talking/singing maneating plants in this case, but the comparison still fits in its own little way, as the film then pivots toward crime comedy high jinks as Yeo-rae and Bum-woo vow to kill Jonathan once and for all. The result is a series of constant trial-by-error, however, and with Jonathan as ruthless as ever, Bum-woo’s all-or-nothing mission to save Yeo-rae from a life of misery segues into a spur-of-the-moment revolution.
I’ve long been a fan of Lee Sun-kyu since first seeing his work in the gritty noir crime thriller A Hard Day, about a cop whose guilty conscience amid horrid corrupt acts places him squarely before an enemy looking to make his life a living hell. Sun-kyun’s performance in that film lives rent free inside my head as does his role in Parasite, and wholly proving his ability to crank things up past eleven, he plays a character that is all about the extravagance and spectacle. His role as Jonathan Na is all about maintaining a façade of constant success and winning and for the most part, he lives up to it through a petty, competitive gumption and tenacity which also comes in hand with his more cunning and sinister demeanor. He also loves what he loves, and when he loves it, “…it’s good!”
Myung’s fresh-faced and wily-haired Bum-woo brings a bit of boyish charm to the screen to couple with his fiddly mien opposite actress Lee’s Yeo-rae. The two each share a transition that adds depth to their characters, particularly making Yeo-rae a heroine worth rooting for, even when she’s feeling defeated, and even as her methods are incriminating at the very least. Bae Yoo-Ram’s expressionless portrayal as Bum-woo’s best friend and fellow club-leading Yeo-rae stan, Lee Young-chan, who apparently holds a record that even the gluttonous Jonathan Na can’t beat.
Musical interludes and hilarity ensues in Won-suk’s movie, almost in the vein of an in-movie script that Yeo-rae is offered at one point. It’s Jonathan who inaugurates the film’s musical overtones as he woos Yeo-rae into his arms at the top of the film; Here, Jonathan dons a TaeKwonDo uniform and delivers a few het up chops and punches to a rather Chad-looking fourth wall-breaking gang of thieves who try to steal Yeo-rae’s stuff. The action here is as over-the-top as the film’s comedic framework wherein Jonathan repeats the same schtick against Bum-woo in a brief final fight scene before the rest of the finale unfolds with a song-and-dance battle for the ages.
There’s also an impromptu hip-hop interlude in a sauna, as well as a contest involving bean stew. Additionally, we also get a pissed-off CG-animated ostrich that somehow fits into the narrative. I won’t say how, although I will say that crux of who Jonathan is as a self-proclaimed animal rights activist is bound to reveal itself before bringing the rest of the film full circle. I’ll leave it to you to see just how that bodes, while I’ll finish off here in simply stating Killing Romance as certainly one for the books – a hearty, fascinating oddity comprising a different kind of South Korean comedy for fans to enjoy – one that’s less to do with sappy romance, and moreso with emancipating yourself from abusers, and finding your audience.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.