366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
DIRECTED BY: Lee Won-suk
FEATURING: Lee Ha-nee, Lee Sun-kyun, Gong Myoung
PLOT: Erstwhile “It”-girl Yeo-rae will do anything to escape the clutches of her possessive husband—even if it means enlisting the aid of one of her bumbling super-fans to commit murder.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: A common grumble we have about Wes Anderson on this site is that he doesn’t go far enough. Lee Won-suk does, with maximal ridiculousness rendered in an Andersonian tint.
COMMENTS: During the audience chatter that immediately followed the film, it was mentioned that, in its native South Korea, Killing Romance is not much dissimilar from other films of its genre. I have no reason to doubt this—all the less-so for having a limited exposure to South Korean films in general, and their romantic comedies in particular—but even if Lee Won-Suk’s film were the most run-of-the-mill outing to found in that East Asian nation, it was unlike anything I have seen.
Framed as a storybook (possibly added to ground potential American audiences), Killing Romance tells the tale of Yeo-rae, famous for a staggeringly idiotic reason, but nonetheless someone who won the hearts of many fans. While recovering emotionally from a badly panned film performance, she meets mega-mogul environmentalist Jonathan “Jonny” Na. They wed, retreat from the world for seven years on a remote island, and then return to Seoul. There Yeo-rae meets a neighbor, lovable loser and fan club president Bum-woo, and Jonny’s darker side emerges.
This darker side manifests in the form of possessiveness, down-to-the-smile control freakery, and occasional beatings (of sorts) via tangerine. Amidst the randomness (when the murder schemes kick off, super sauna steam heat and countless bowls of bean soup are among the attempts at offing Jonny), musical numbers (spoiler alert: the film climaxes with a sing-off, in karaoke so the audience can join), and animal encounters (a throwaway joke about Bum-woo at the start manages to become a major plot point somehow) is the phenomenon of Jonny Na—a masterfully whimsical sociopath. He loves his wife, but she must be “just so”; he loves to be loved, and finds this “so gooooooood” (a running gag); and he seems genuinely confused that the world does not always bend to his wishes. Lee Sun-kyun’s performance nearly steals the show.
Except there is so much going on here. I’ll spare you further lists and sentences and wrap up with a brief anecdote. Over the course of the screening, a young woman in the audience removed her shoes and neatly placed them on the floor below; perched herself atop the edge of the fold-down theater seat; and proceed to sit in a state of grin-stricken happy tension throughout the feature. Killing Romance is a sheer delight, and one of the few “quirky” movies to turn that corner into weirdful wonderment.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: