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My Dear Enemy takes the audience on a long day's journey into the type of relationship where direction and longevity are unimportant.
APA is not unfamiliar with director and co-writer Lee Yoon-ki's My Dear Enemy (a previous capsule review can be found here), so hopefully I can go without rehashing the plot, which involves a man, a woman, a car and a need for money. Having said that, one would be mistaken to assume my terseness signals a dislike of the film. On the contrary, I was surprisingly charmed by it.
The narrative point of departure is tenuous, but the cast, dialogue and direction fall into each other's laps so affectionately and naturally, that in retrospect, I realised that what seemed tenuous in the beginning was actually the film's effortless ability to ease audiences into the iffy journey -- of buying into a film's world, characters and situations. Given all the different and infinite kinds of circumstances that can prevent you from interacting with a film, encountering this film made the question "Are we there yet?" far from my mind -- and irrelevant.
The opening sequence is rather wonderful: the camera follows seemingly random people engaged in their own conversations, linked only by their criss-crossing but separate, independent paths. They all converge at a gambling place, and from there, one gradually finds the main characters. The film follows such a natural, instinctual pace, as if it were waiting for the main characters to materialise organically -- as if it did not know these characters' stories and suddenly decided to follow them to see what they are up to. The film ends up unfolding in a really subtle, delightful way, set to Lee's perceptive choice of a 1920s/1930s jazz-inspired score by Kim Jeong-beom, through the day-long car ride and money-driven encounters all over Seoul.
You would think that each unanticipated encounter along the way would map out the ex-lovers Jo Beong-woon (Ha Jeong-woo) and Kim Hee-su (Jeon Do-yeon) and their past, so that by the time the end credits roll you can piece together a clear picture of how Beong-woon became homeless and nomadic, how Hee-su came to have such a hard veneer. But like maybe a twisted version of the Amazing Race, that kind of journey would involve some reflection and, if possible, some crying after each obstacle. But My Dear Enemy doesn't really do that. And we can be thankful. As stretched as it may sound, this car journey never really lapses into cliches and never runs dry.
Since most of the film is spent accompanying Beong-woon and Hee-su, actors Ha and Jeon have a particular responsibility to avoid striking any false notes. Like her performance in Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine (but obviously in a whole other context), she is practically unrecognisable. Jeon is solid as the brusque, tense, sensitive and enigmatic ex-girlfriend who insists on accompanying Beong-woon to collect money from people, so that he can repay the money she had lent him several years ago. Her character is more or less the heavy weight to Ha's charming, but sometimes-bumbling, too-ingratiating, and insatiably-cheerful character. Jo could be simply characterised as a buffoon, but Ha plays him with such ease, nuance and charisma that it is hard to resist.
As a title, My Dear Enemy is pretty catchy, but the original title of the Japanese short story on which the main storyline is based is One Fine Day. Honestly, by the end of the film, there was a reluctance on my part to realise the day coming to an end, and hence the film. By the end of the day, I wanted to ask Hee-su where she bought her really stylish and fitting grey jacket so I could get one of my own. I marveled at Beong-woon's uncanny ability to generate such strong friendships. I wanted to ask him what he is up to that evening. Although Lee professed that the film was inspired by Woody Allen's films, My Dear Enemy is not so much a romantic comedy, since there is an absence of romance -- or a failed one, if you prefer. But at the bottom, there is always some kind of relationship, and whatever Hee-su and Beong-woon may not have had at any other time, Lee nudges you to think that just for that one day -- there was something there.
Other spectators had less of an enlightening and enjoyable journey: a spectator asked Lee what he was trying to say with the film, since he did not get it. Lee replied, I'm sorry it was hard to understand. Next time I'll try to make it more understandable. Heaven forbid Lee to do just that with his future projects.
Date Posted: 7/3/2009