Kim Joung-hoon’s Petty Romance (2010), while the synopsis would suggest a genre-bending adventure in fan-fiction, is in fact a fine, if somewhat by the numbers, example of South Korean romantic comedy. The central development of the relationship is a believable one, with the touches of broad comedy set pieces adding the requisite touches of empathy to make the film a success.
The dynamics between the central characters contain the right level of social awkwardness for a sense of warmth and genuine likeability for the central love interests. Jeong-Bae (Lee Sun-Kyun) is a somewhat stereotypical struggling artist, troubled, insular and socially awkward. It is Da-Rim (Choi Kang-hee), the object of affection, who has the most work to do as a somewhat conflicted and arrogant character. The opposites attract formula may sound trite, but engaging and endearing performances hold the somewhat conventional story together. One aspect where Petty Romance breaks convention is in the inserted manga sequences, drawn by Seok Jeong-hyeon.
Each is drawn according to the mood of the live action scene, meaning that their impact is emotionally stronger, when Da-Rim is fantasising about her perfect romance the animation ironically mimics a classic Disney style. These manga breaks add a welcome dimension to what could have just been a simple romantic comedy, and although at times the scenes are jarring and graphic, be it in sex or violence, their sparing use add to the story, rather than feeling like a visual gimmick. The direction of Kim Joung-hoon makes a real impression throughout, in particular the striking use of lighting, which is stylish but never obtrusive.
The mix of comic-book idiosyncrasies with the live action scenes allow Kim to indulge in style and visual flair whilst never overwhelming the comedy or narrative arc of the relationships. His visual style demonstrates a creativity and wit, whilst the engaging and emotional performances from the actors demonstrate his command of the essential ingredients of the rom-com; likeable people getting together in the end.
Petty Romance is a generic romantic comedy that, while perhaps a touch too much on the side of cliché, is packed with enough humour and creative visuals to make feel like a welcome fresh take on a tired and predictable genre.
Hannah-Jane Albone (CUEAFS)