By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald on July 13, 2004
“How to Keep My Love,” opening this Friday, is a chick film only for two types of people: those who cannot keep their eyes off the popular TV drama “Lovers in Paris” and girls in their 20s having a hard time getting their boyfriends to commit. If you’re neither of these, stop reading right now.
The heroine in “How to Keep My Love” (“Nae Namjaui Romance”) is Kim Jeong-eun, who happens to be the main character in “Lovers in Paris,” a weekend nighttime soap opera that is an unabashedly typical Cinderella story.
Despite the unbearably cheesy plot, the drama’s viewing rate is roaring near 40 percent. The reason: Korea’s new perky Cinderella Kim’s irresistibly entertaining performances appeal strongly to mostly female viewers who dream of their knights in shining armor.
The public attention drawn to the new film, therefore, is largely due to the soaring popularity of “Lovers in Paris” and Kim. No wonder, director Park Je-hyeon relies heavily on Kim’s performance to steer the film forward (though it’s a bit difficult to say that it’s headed in that direction).
In the film, Kim plays Hyun-ju, a kind-hearted subway worker who is rapidly approaching 30, a psychologically important age — or deadline — for Korean women who want to get married.
Although her job is modest and her friends are total losers, Hyun-ju seems happy since she has been with her faithful boyfriend, So-hun (Kim Sang-gyeong) for the past seven years. The only problem is that she doesn’t know why her boyfriend has been hesitant to “pop the question.”
It turns out that there’s another drama unfolding for So-hun, a good-looking bug terminator. He works for a company specializing in spotting and eliminating insects, bugs or whatever else may be crawling inside offices or homes.
If you think this is not funny, what about this bug chaser ending up with a gorgeous woman in an elevator that stops for no apparent reason when they are together.
The life of this simple guy changes when he catches the eye and heart of the woman, who is none other than Da-young (Oh Seung-hyeon), the most famous female star in Korea.
Sounds familiar? Da-young, if a hint is allowed, is Julia Roberts in “Notting Hill” (1999). The outrageous dilemma is that actor Kim Sang-gyeong is no Hugh Grant. It is absolutely impossible to see why the Korean princess has to fall in love with a bug terminator. Oh, he does get some bugs off the hair of the sexy actress in the elevator, but is this supposed to be romantic?
The supposedly real drama plays out between our heroine Hyun-ju and the famous female star Da-young. The film details the gaps in status, beauty and even character between the two women, throwing in a jealousy factor as they compete for Prince Charming.
However, this formula is also familiar. Again, Julia Roberts is a great actress to remember for her excellent role in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997). The difference is that So-hun is just drawn to the top actress and hasn’t openly talked about a break-up with his old girlfriend.
Enter Korea’s Renee Zellweger of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001), a character who makes all kinds of embarrassing mistakes in the course of nabbing her true love. Here Kim Jeong-eun looks foolishly naive, rushing to confront Da-young in person and purchasing 3 million won worth of clothes to compete with her.
Despite the silly role she’s given, Kim manages to shine with her impressive acting and ad-libbing. Even when she goes on the lingerie fashion show runway, being mistaken for a model, Kim bats her eyes charmingly and asks the self-evident question like “Ain’t I looking beautiful?”
Kim’s personal charm, indeed, is the only thing that props up the flimsy storyline. And this is why the first type of people, those who avidly watch every episode of “Lovers in Paris” and get thrilled when Kim is wooed by two ideal men, are the major target of this tweaked Cinderella story.
The second type of people, meanwhile, will feel a sense of solidarity when Kim fights hard to get back her precious boyfriend from the wicked you-know-who.
The underlying idea is that a growing number of Korean men are getting more elusive when it comes to proposals and are quick to come up with all kinds of excuses to delay marriage when confronted by their girlfriends.
Of course, there are no hard facts or statistics to prove this peculiar phenomenon, but some female viewers who enjoyed this film said it’s true that more men are dragging their feet.
Girls who are dealing with elusive boyfriends, however, may find it hard to accept what the movie presents as a conclusion: our bug-destroying Prince Charming holds the key – yes, the ultimate key to resolving the conflict, otherwise known as a “pretty personal choice” between the two girls.
Whatever Hyun-ju does in the film, they have nothing to do with So-hun. It is the man who decides which girl he wants to rescue in the end, which is a laughable presumption, whether the critic is feminist or not.
The irony is that a lot (not all) of women ohhh and ahhh when presented with a romantic situation where a Prince Charming rescues a plain girl in trouble.
That’s corny, but it works anyway. If not, how can we explain that “Aegiya Gaja!” (“Let’s go, baby!”) is spreading like wildfire on the Web? This creepy line is what the main character in “Lovers in Paris” said to protect and rescue the Cinderella character played by Kim Jeong-eun.
But “How to Keep My Love” centers largely on a bug-eat-bug world (given that the male character constantly picks and kills bugs everywhere throughout the film), and it seems that our hero So-hun is more in sync with cute bugs than his girlfriend.
The film is officially promoted as a “heart-warming romance,” but for bugs, it’s a “heart-stopping killing binge.” So, here’s a more heart-warming phrase for the poor bugs: “Let’s go, bugs!”