Love Guide For Dumpees / 극적인 하룻밤 (2015) Korean Movie Review

A raunchy Rom-com about 20 somethings looking for love starring Yoon Kye-Sang and Han Ye-Ri

With Korean Romantic Comedy movies failing to retain traction within the Korean movie market over the last few years, there have been different attempts to spice up the old but sturdy workhorse genre. It seems like the recent trend might be to adapt ‘Korean version of off-off Broadway’ plays for the silver screen. This would be an interesting trend if it takes off since this doesn’t really happen in general here. While novels, webtoons and some Japanese TV shows have been turned into Korean movies, not so much for theatrical plays.

Considering the over supply in the Korean theatrical market and the lack of quality writers overall, you would expect there would be much more overlap. And there is but only in the opposite direction. It is so common to see even the financially mediocre Korean movies become cheap off-off Korean Broadway plays. Recently, I saw a flyer for the stage play version of “Love Forecast” (2015) which starred Moon Chae-Won.

“I mean the movie. Not the play!”
“The play couldn’t afford her”

One reason for this one way crossover especially in the comedy genre is the fact that these Rom-com stage plays do not really have much plot or intent to tell an elaborate story. Rather, they are just platforms for physical screwball comedy skits and 4th wall breaking community theater antics which characterize traditional Korean theater. Since it is not easy to add plot to where there is none compared to cutting out plot from where there is an abundance, a Rom-com stage play is less likely to be turned into a movie.  This situation makes “Love Guide For Dumpees / 극적인 하룻밤” (2015) interesting as it is based on one of the longest running off-off Korean Broadway Rom-com stage plays.

“How does it fare?”
“Are you really interested in the movie or the cast?”

Most of you who have heard about this movie would be fans of actor Yoon Kye-Sang. He was recently in Korean Dramas “Last” (JTBC / 2015) and “Beyond the Clouds” (KBS2 / 2014). In contrast, actress Han Ye-Ri has been mostly working in movies. You may remember her from 2013’s “Commitment” where she played the love interest. For the next few pages, I’ll tell you how your lovely Yoon Kye-Sang does. I’ll give you a taste now.

“He is looking old”

English and Titles
For some reason, I always like to look at the English title of a Korean movie before I get knees deep into talking about the movie itself.  It is interesting to see how Koreans deal with English branding as it can get weird. Sometimes an English title comes out of the left field but other times they are very literally descriptive of what the movie is. In case of “Love Guide For Dumpees,” the title is more of the latter.  The movie is about people who got dumped… well I mean by a loose definition of that term … looking for love afterwards. An interesting word choice here is the “guide” part. This movie is not really a guide to anything.

“I know it is a common word in a popular phrase.”

IMDB has a lot of titles with “guide to” in them.
 “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)”
“Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce (2014) (TV Series)”
“The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)”

Weirdly enough, “Guide for” is not so common. The only theatrical movie I could find was the ” Guide for the Married Man” (1967) starring Walter Matthau and Inger Stevens.

The Korean title “극적인 하룻밤” can be translated as “One dramatic night.” I think this title is more suited to the original stage play about the shenanigans resulting from a drunk one night stand than the standard Romantic comedy the movie version turned out to be.

The Setup
In most cases, Romantic comedy is 50% casting and 50% setup. Let’s get to the setup first.  As with most Rom-coms, “Love Guide For Dumpees” (2015) is about a man and a woman. Both are in their mid 2os and share one thing in common. And that commonality will fuel the entire movie.

The “GUY” is temping as a gym teacher at a school for the challenged. This movie is not clear on the details. He had dated an older woman before but he is now single again. It is not clear who broke it off but both are still on good terms.  They reverted from being lovers who are somewhat equal to the socially acceptable hierarchical relationship ordered by age differences encouraged by Korean society. She is the elder and he is the youngster. It is the Korean version of being friend zoned.

“Friend zoned!”
“What a term…”

The “WOMAN” has dreamt of being a chef making art everyone would enjoyed but is now a food stylist that constructs food centerpieces to look good in foodie photos.  She is disenchanted by the direction her career is heading. It does not help that her boss is now engaged to her ex-boyfriend and has a kid on the way. Oh and her boss is the guy’s ex. In other words, it is a figuratively incestuous social setup.

“And Korean society tends to make you take it like a chump!”

The two so called “dumpees” end up hooking up at their exs’ wedding in which attendance is mandated by Korean social customs.

“I mean attending the wedding and not the hooking up part”
“Korea is not THAT weird”

 Thus, we have a wacky setup suited for a rom-com…Did I miss something?
Oh, there is the whole let’s hook up until we use up all the punches on this random café rewards card whenever we get coffee for some reason.

“Friends with benefits”
“The movie is just trying to be cute at this point”

Writing romance and humor
“Is writing a good Rom-com script that difficult?”

For the world’s cinephiles, the genre of Romantic comedy is viewed as a slum. They say that is formulaic, cheesy and pandering.  And I have to say that they have a point. However, this doesn’t mean that good romantic comedy movies are easy to make with the emphasis on “good.” If you look at US’s cable channels targeting the female demographics such as “Hallmark” and “Life time,” they tend to grind out cheap TV Rom-com movies that are obvious rip-offs of theatrically released Rom-coms from the 80s and 90s. The result of these slapped together movies are… let’s just say that they don’t make the already beleaguered genre look better. 

The truth is that making a “good” Romantic comedy is difficult because of the restrictions of the genre. Since making any kind of movie is extremal complex, let’s limit the discussion to the writing a Rom-com script. In a mainstream Rom-com movie, it is difficult to move beyond the Jane Austen’s “pride and prejudice” format. The breeding couple have a “meet-cute” scene. They develop a romantic relationship which is then threatened by a misunderstanding of some kind. And, at the end, the couple gets together. This is the golden formula for rom-com movies that is also true for Korean movies of this genre.

“What was the last mainstream Hollywood rom-com movie that did something new?”

Let’s say that movies such as “(500) Days of Summer” (2009) are exceptions as they are more in the vein of indie rom-coms which have their own quirks to them. In my opinion, it was “Definitely, Maybe” (2008) starring Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, Abigail Breslin and Kevin Kline. Not only was this Ryan Reynolds’ best rom-com of his career but it did enough to shakeup the narrative structure to be interesting. The point is that writing a decent and fresh romantic comedy movie is not easy. Korean romantic comedies are no exception to this truth.

Filling in the blanks
Watching “Love Guide For Dumpees” (2015) is an interesting experience because you notice early on is that the original concept for the movie must have been very thin. I mentioned that the source material was a flimsy stage play. This is obvious to even those who have no idea of the existence of its origin.

“So a lot of filler material?”

“Love Guide For Dumpees” (2015) has a run time of 106 minutes which is not too long compared to other romantic comedies of today. While it could trim a few minutes off here and there, I cannot classify what the movie was doing as padding out the narrative. The narrative goes over the plot points and character moments you expect to see in this type of movie without veering off too much. What is odd about this movie is that, during its 106 minute run time, “Love Guide For Dumpees” (2015) basically morphs through several different standard rom-com subgenres until it reaches its rather cliché ending.

First, it starts out as somewhat of a twisted and dark romcom... well as dark as these movies get…that an actress like Krysten Ritter would star in. Next, it warps into an over the top sex comedy with the male protagonist having his own sex craved best friend who exaggerates his sexual exploits.

“Anyone see Stifler?”

There is also a nice dose of what is blatantly sexual harassment which one would more likely to see in late 80s or early 90s comedies. Next, the movie turns into a breezy 20 something rom-com, that is also sexy but not over the top, like “Friends with Benefits” (2011) starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Next, the movie turns into a more neurotic comedy about the characters’ petty personal issues that acts as the 2nd act hurdle. And abruptly the movie ends like a lot of movie with a happy ending that really seems less than earned.

It is as if the writer… Ha Ki-Ho is also the director… collected scripts of random romantic comedy movies made in Hollywood over the last 3 decades and cut and pasted them together to make a script.

“So, the movie is bad?”

Surprisingly, it is not outright terrible. On one hand, it is not the total mess you think it would be. The writer/director Ha Ki-Ho on his second theatrical movie put in the effort to make each part or phase of the movie as modular as possible. Thus, each part doesn’t bleed into other parts too much resulting in narrative chaos. On the other hand, this means that there is no consistent narrative flow with plot points brought up and then dropped. For example, the female protagonist seemed to be this very abrasive and twisted girl at first. But, at the end, she seems as white as snow except for the random Goth skull ear rings she is wearing for some reason. And no one mentioned it. As a result, the movie fails to establish a consistent tone.

That cliché was clever, right?
If the movie did something far out of left field in terms of its subject matter, the movie would at least come off as refreshing but every single thing in the movie is cliché. It is just that the cliché comes from all over the place. It has the perverted sidekick characters forming the most healthy relationship cliché which is no way integrated with the main narrative. The movie even has its own version of the “Say Anything...” (1989) boombox scene as the big dramatic gesture at the end of the movie. Of course, it is after one of the characters runs towards another character in a large public space that isn’t an airport even though the character could just use a cell phone to ask the other character to wait for a moment.

“So cliché!”

What I tend to find most irritating about the writing of this movie is that it sees utilizing these cliché as being clever. For example, there is the whole “friends with benefits” or what is commonly known as “fuckbuddy” arrangement in the movie which is represented by a coffee shop loyalty punch card. First, other movies have used this type of item as a gimmick before. Second, it really comes out of nowhere. The writer/director seems to think it is quirky but it really is just lazy writing.

Another example is the scene where the “friends with benefits” are doing couple’s yoga and failing at a specific pose. You know it is either a throwaway scene to show that the couple is cute or something that will become a plot point. Since this just came out of nowhere, I would have preferred the former outcome.

“But, you just know it will be the latter”

While there is a bunch of lazy writing going on, the script does try to polish what it has. I did enjoy some of the screwball dialogue. There are limits to what one can do with what one has though. In addition to being fragmented, it is clear that the movie is trying too hard. And this is when it is at its worst.  In my opinion, this movie is the most enjoyable when it is in “breezy 20 something” mode. It is more laid back and lets the actors work with the script rather than see them struggle with the script.

“Now it’s time to talk about the cast”

On-screen presence
The central couple here is played by Han Ye-Ri and Yoon Kye-Sang. And … I’ve never really liked Yoon Kye-Sang much as an actor. As a former K-pop star, He usually played the nice boy next door with a slight goofy side on Korean dramas. In many cases, while his acting was not bad, he was too pretty to take serious but not pretty enough to matter. He was goofy but not funny. This resulted in him, as a younger actor, being placed somewhere in the meandering middle.

Now, as he is getting older and his prettiness fade, this may be the time for him to show he has gown as an actor. But, “Love Guide For Dumpees” (2015) is not a movie that will do this. Gone is the clean pretty face. He looks old now. In many ways, he feels like a mix between the neurotic nature of Jason Bateman and the apathy of Vince Vaughn throughout this movie. When he has to over act and delivery a raunchy performance, the overacting of Ben Stiller enters the mix. The combination seems more toxic than funny. However, it is not a total wash. When he doesn’t have to over act or act serious which tends to just come off as pouty, his old charm does shine through. And I do think he has decent chemistry with Han Ye-Ri.

In term of acting, his female counterpart Han Ye-Ri is the better half. Personally, she hadn’t made an impression on me in the few times I’ve seen her in movies before. And this IS the problem with her as an actress. Unlike Yoon Kye-Sang who has a definite screen presence even though he may not be the best actor, Han Ye-Ri is simply too normal in her demeanor. If she just past by on the streets, I wouldn’t imagine she acted as a profession. She just fades into the background. It is only when her “acting” button is pressed, that she is suddenly noticeable. And you will definitely notice her then. It is just a shame that she is not consistently ON. Through the movie, you feel she fluctuates between ON and OFF mode.

Overall, when Yoon Kye-Sang is not challenged and Han Ye-Ri has her acting hat on, the two tend to work well off each other. They do make a cute couple. It is just a shame that this congruence of conditions only really occurs in the middle of the movie when the movie tries to be a breezy 20 something romance with some witty dialogue. 

Holding up the boombox
“Is Love Guide For Dumpees (2015) worth a watch?”

I would have to say not really. The movie feels scattered and too uncomfortable at moments to be a “comfort food” type of watch. At the same time, it isn’t edgy or funny enough to watch it for that reason. In addition, the stars of this movie are not cute or pretty enough to just watch for those reasons.

However, if you try to watch it for how it portrays the relationship and interaction between Korean acquaintances, you could get some interesting insights into Korean society.

“Yes, it is more soap than real life”

However, the subtlety abusive nature of human interaction wrapped within Yuppie-like culture that Korean society has is a warped but valid reflection of Korean society. It is more interesting because this is no way the intention of the movie itself. It just seeps through. Overall I give the movie a C grade. 

Score: C or 4.5/10

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