Do not be fooled by the title: Perhaps Love is not your typical rom-com. In fact, it is not a rom-com at all. This emotionally honest, amusing screwball comedy offers us different angles on what love is and what it can be, more in line with the Greek differentiations of the concept.
The most interesting part of Perhaps Love – and what holds the film together – are the tangled relationships between its many characters and their subplots. Multiple gears are in motion here. Kim Hyun (Ryu Seung-ryong) is a one-time best-selling author and university lecturer whose life is a borderline train wreck. His spendthrift wife and daughter are abroad, in whose absence he becomes increasingly emotionally reliant on his ex-wife Mi-ae (Oh Na-ra), who is secretly dating Kim’s friend and publisher Soon-mo (Kim Hee-won). At the same time, he struggles to connect with his teenage son Sung-kyung (Sung Yu-bin), who gets dumped by his pregnant girlfriend and starts fantasising about his married neighbour Jung-won (Lee Yoo-young).
On top of all of this, we have Yu-jin (Mu Jin-seong), a talented student of Kim who offers his teacher both the draft of his novel and his love. Stuck for seven years in writer’s block, Kim finds it harder by the day to skate by on the success of his past best-selling novel that’s fading from memory. When an impending debt further threatens what little stability he has left in his life, he decides to make Yu-jin his protégé and finish the novel together as well as confront his casual homophobia, despite quite literally running away from Yu-jin earlier.
The cast’s brilliant performances make this multi-storyline affair a relatively breezy watch. At the heart of the story’s thread is Kim Hyun, played by Ryu Seung-ryong (Kingdom, Extreme Job) who became the inaugural Best from the East honoree at the recent New York Asian Film Festival, where the film was also in competition. Ryu infuses Kim with warmth and humour that makes the character oddly charming. Equally splendid is Oh Na-ra (TV series My Mister) as the ex-wife Mi-ae, whose scenes with Ryu elicit the most laughter throughout the film.
Supported by Kim Tae-gyeong’s editing and precise comic timing – something that the Korean screen industry is yet to be eclipsed by anyone else – the actress-turned-director Cho Eun-ji offers a decent amount of playful fun in the film’s 113-minute running time. Known mostly for her acting roles in crime thrillers such as The Villainess and Confession of Murder, Cho’s debut direction was recognised with the Best New Director prize at the Baeksang Arts Award in April.
And that is a well-deserved honour, for first-timer Kim Na-deul’s script could certainly have been treated worse in less deft hands. The story proves emotionally honest in its portrayal of the different sides, sorrows, and joys of love, especially the poignant relationship between Kim and Yu-jin (look out for a Days of Being Wild reference, Wong Kar-wai fans!). However, the dramatisation of Kim’s screenplay veers off course in certain parts. In one climax scene of calamitous farce that sees nearly all characters together, rote comedy prevails over relatable drama and ends up exerting a distancing effect.
A chief example of such disengagement is the character of Jung-won the neighbour and her relationship with Kim’s son Sung-kyung. While Sung-kyung’s growing pains play a crucial role and are emotionally relatable for the audience, Jung-won’s existence seems entirely in service to his character. Accompanying him to an internet café to play video games and to sing karaoke after spontaneously running into him on the street, Lee Yoo-young’s character is regrettably pigeonholed as a manic pixie dream girl from the outset.
“You’re a writer. You got to have an interest in relationships”, says Kim to Yu-jin, writer to writer. Director Cho Eun-ji and writer Kim Na-deul, however, would do well to remember that – in order to have interesting relationships, you first need to craft well-conceived, well-rounded characters.
Written by Amarsanaa Battulga