Friday, 7 April 2006

Art of Seduction 작업의 정석 (2006)

Great premise but weak execution bogs down a promising movie

Let me tell you I like the idea behind Art of Seduction. Ji-won (Son Ye-jin) and Min-jun (Song Il-guk) are first rate players in the dating game. Operating separately, each has developed a set of rules to charm, snag, conquer, and then dump rich members of the opposite sex without incurring any painful consequences. The perks for Ji-won: free meals and extravagant gifts from lovestruck males. For Min-Jun, getting away with flirting and seducing many women in quick succession is its own reward. What happens when both master players decide to seduce the other? Who will give in first, whose tactics will emerge victorious?

The more important point, though, is these two players are in fact con artists armed with fake identities, professions, uniforms, and even a repertoire of scams (Ji-won loves to drive her car into her prey’s vehicle by way of introduction). The battle between two con artists trying to pull a fast one on each other, the clash of wills between a roguish male lead and a smart and dangerous vixen – this is more reminiscent of classic comedies of the 1950s than recent fare like How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. Given that modern romantic comedies are mind-numbingly bland, the return to clever and intriguing setups like these bode well for Art of Seduction, and in fact the film shines in its first half hour.

The rest of the film details the escalating tug of war between Ji-won and Min-jun to gain the upper hand of the relationship over a series of dates whose failure occur precisely because both parties refuse to give in to each other. Somewhere in this section of the movie, one comes to a realisation that both parties are unlikeable, obnoxious liars, with Ji-won marginally more unlikeable than Min-jun. It is simply near impossible to identify or sympathise with, or care for these characters or the decisions they make (aside from the fact that they’re played by your favourite Korean film idols). There are several valid ways to continue – the movie would still work if it’s a satire of dating in general, or if both con artists move towards their eventual comeuppance. Neither of these happen. The film can’t decide whether to play as a satire or a straight romantic comedy (and that requires endearing both characters to the audience, something that is never done) and chooses to vacillate between the two. The resulting film is a confused creature whose plot is continuously pulled in two opposite directions and never manages to decide where to move towards.

The final act of Art of Seduction reads like a textbook for How Not to Write Romantic Comedies. Ji-won and Min-jun find out very early on, during their first outing, that their date is a player, a liar, and a con artist. Why they continue dating each other is unclear, and what they actually see in each other to justify that decision is unclear. As far as I can tell, behaving as Ji-won does, in a saccharine-sweet and artificially cute manner would an warrant immediate expulsion from the school of love rather than making her a “master player”. Perhaps Koreans have a vastly different idea of what’s hot in a woman, but this point sticks like a fishbone in the viewer’s throat for every occasion in the movie where Ji-won switches from normal to ghastly cute and girly. When the two con artists fall in love with each other for real, it’s so incomprehensible you keep feeling there’s a joke set up in there somewhere. Apparently, that’s when both characters are unveiled as players to each other. Wait, they were supposed to have known that early on, during their first date… Oh boy.

Art of Seduction promises so much in its premise and initial setup, but squanders it all by relying more on the star quality of its main characters to pull in audiences and box office receipts rather than a fully-realised script. On a brighter note, I am impressed with the supporting cast of actors, whose superior acting skills and comic timing liven up each scene they appear in. Park Yong-woo is underutilised as an ex-flame who can’t let go off Ji-won, while Hyun Yong is perfect as Ji-won’s girlfriend, who is either more nutty or more sane, depending on how you view it. Park Jun-gyu shows us how a truly charming conman/seducer would look like, as Min-jun’s millionaire father. It’s a pity that the supporting cast did not have more screentime to develop their roles. As a non-follower of Korean film idols Song Il-guk and Son Ye-jin, I kept wanting to see more of their more engaging and interesting co-stars.

First published at incinemas on 13 April 2006

No comments: