청춘만화 (Almost Love) Press Screening Report

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They've been friends for 13 years, but that's all they consider each other. His dream is to become the next Jackie Chan, and she just wants to overcome her stage fright. But Ji-Hwan (Kwon Sang-Woo) and Dal-Lae (Kim Ha-Neul) might have to deal with something a little deeper, before the end of film. Lee Han's 청춘만화 (Almost Love) pairs together Kim and Kwon for the first time since 2003's 동갑내기 과외하기 (My Tutor Friend), one of the most successful Korean comedies of all time. And in some ways, its story doesn't look particularly original, with two friends slowly growing closer because of a plot device, and comedy turning into melodrama. But if anything, Lee Han's 반전 (twist) are usually a little more palatable than those of Kwak Jae-Yong of 엽기적인 그녀 (My Sassy Girl), as his 2002 melodrama 연애소설 (Lover's Concerto) managed to affect despite its ultra-trite plot. Lee has been assistant director on two of Bae Chang-Ho's films, 1996's 러브 스토리 (Love Story) and 2000's 정 (My Heart), and later debuted with the 2002 film starring Cha Tae-Hyun, Son Ye-Jin and the late Lee Eun-Joo.

His scripts don't deviate too much from the norm, but sometimes they work pretty well. Although 하늘정원 (The Garden of Heaven) was a complete mess, the 2003 KBS Drama 보디가드 (Bodyguard) was quite good (too bad singer-turned-actress Maya stunk up the place with her 'acting'), but that was also the Cha Seung-Won factor having a big effect on proceedings. Of course we're not dealing with any real 'great' films, but even if they don't stray off the beaten path too much, I can deal with something like 'Lover's Concerto', a lot more than a 2 hour long masturbatory music video about the (less than discreet) charms of Miss Jeon Ji-Hyun, like a certain 내 여자친구를 소개합니다 (Windstruck). And besides that, both Kwon and especially Kim Ha-Neul have shown they can do great in comedies, as their chemistry in 'My Tutor Friend' showed.

Kim is an interesting case, because her comedies always seem to do really well, while her melodramas and TV Dramas always bomb. She's become a sort of female Kim Seung-Woo, whose exaggerated acting and expressions work perfectly for a comedy setting, but then instantly turn into overacting in a melodrama setting. One just needs a look at turds like 빙우 (Ice Rain), 유리화 (Glass Flower) and 령 (The Ghost) [which technically is a horror film, but flopped miserably as well]. Of course she became a star thanks to 동감 (Ditto), which is as melodrama as they get, but she was too young to be typecast, or understand the repercussions of building an image on the big and small screen back then.

When it comes to Kwon Sang-Woo, I feel sometimes we're dealing with one of the most misused young talents in the industry, but misuse is not really the right word, as he's not exactly forced to act in manure like 천국의 계단 (Stairway To Heaven) and 슬픈 연가 (Sad Sonata). Better yet, film fans tend to have a higher opinion of him, and also are a little less jaded towards his acting, perhaps because they missed most of his career on TV. And it's certainly an important point, as from 2001's 신화 (The Legend) up to last year's turkey on MBC starring Yeon Jung-Hoon and Kim Hee-Sun, every single TV Drama Kwon has acted in failed to rise above mediocrity. We go from the entirely frivolous and almost unnecessary -- 지금은 연애중 (We Are Dating Now) and 맛있는 청훈 (Delicious Proposal) -- to the soulless -- 태양 속으로 (Into The Sun) and 'The Legend' -- to end with the unbearable -- 'Sad Sonata' and 'Stairway To Heaven'.

But on the other hand, save for a few missteps, Kwon's career on the big screen has been pretty good. 2001's 화산고 (火山高, Volcano High) drags like an elephant, but it's not devoid of charms (mostly because of the excellent supporting cast, and the quirky cultural touches); 일단 뛰어 (Make It Big) is throwaway but quite fun, and of course Yoo Ha's 말죽거리 잔혹사 (Once Upon a Time in High School) is excellent. Still, I always get the feeling Kwon could become another Yang Dong-Geun (who's still the best under-30 talent in Chungmuro, but he's rarely used as well as he'd deserve), but he doesn't really want to. The huge popularity in Japan and the rest of Asia, fueled by his TV Dramas, has built an image of pretty boy with a perfect physique (the 몸짱 craze), image which always comes back to haunt him when it's time to find an interesting film.

It's really no surprise that 야수 (Running Wild), his first serious tentative to distance himself from that image, flopped. And 'Almost Love' might end up reinforcing even more his image, even if it does extremely well. It's a shame, because Kwon deserves much better, and should look into projects like Yoo Ha's striking action melodrama a little more. But of course the prospect of becoming another Yonsama is much more appealing than considering it risks tossing a promising career in the trash after a half decade of typecasting. But then again, this counts very little in this film. It's clear we're dealing with a star vehicle, which admittedly looks like plenty of fun (although probably not as smart as 'My Tutor Friend'). It's also clear this film will not have a hard time doing well, as it's the kind of romcom which tends to do extremely well in this period of the year. So we might be dealing with another 3 to 5 Million tickets ordeal. What that will mean for Kwon's career is an enigma, but his fans won't probably mind.

Also starring talented child actors Jung Min-Ah from 다모 (Damo) and 패션 70s (Fashion Seventies) and Park Ji-Bin from 안녕, 형아 (Little Brother), 'Almost in Love' had its press screening today (White Day!) at the Megabox in Samsung-Dong. Present at the premiere Director Lee Han and stars Kwon Sang-Woo and Kim Ha-Neul. The film debuts on March 23.

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PRESS REACTION
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Reaction of the press was, as expected, pretty good. The first half, which just like most Korean romcoms focuses more on comedy, is helped by the leading couple's natural acting and by the quirky atmosphere, but as the story progresses, its melodramatic 반전 (twist) ends up slowing down the film quite a bit. The biggest focus here was on the chemistry between Kwon and Kim, who are paired together once again after the success of 동갑내기 과외하기 (My Tutor Friend) in 2003, and basically make the film much better than it probably deserves to be. Of course the biggest complain was how the second half rushes into melodrama a little too quickly, and those expecting a 2nd 'My Tutor Friend' will either end up being disappointed or even surprised. But all were pretty confident about the film's box office potential. With Kim's comedies always doing so well, she's the real box office draw here. Kwon had to deal with two consecutive flops, after the useless star vehicle 신부수업 (Love, So Divine) and the disappointing result of 야수 (Running Wild), but he'll most likely avenge those failures with this one. So we're dealing with a very lively, funny and 'teen manhwa [the Korean title]' like first half, and then the second half predictably turns a little more melodramatic, and the pacing drags a little. But overall, the reaction was better than expected (although it couldn't match that for 'My Tutor Friend', which was received quite well even by critics back in 2003), and this has all the cards to become a big success.

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COMMENTS
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DIRECTOR LEE HAN
"Just because we used 'Youth' in the [Korean] title, it doesn't mean it's all about having fun and laughing. One's youth is also full of trials and tribulations, so we tried to represent all those feelings in the film. To write the outline, I used something my friend and colleague Kim Young-Joon [director of 비천무 (Bichunmoo) and 무영검 (Shadowless Sword)] experienced while shooting one of his films. What happens to Ji-Hwan (Kwon) in the film, after dreaming for so long a career as an actor, could have easily made him give up on all his dreams, so his overcoming those obstacles was all the more personal and important to me."

KWON SANG-WOO
"Ji-Hwan's might always look optimistic and reckless, but he's someone who tries hard up until the end. If he finds something that interests him, he'll do his best until exhaustion, so on those terms we share a lot in common. Just like Ji-Hwan, back in my school days I was a loner and outcast who enjoyed fighting. I was a huge Jackie Chan fan, so I started learning Taekwondo and practiced a lot, but I could only get a red belt. Kim Ha-Neul hasn't changed a bit since we worked together in 'My Tutor Friend', both in looks and personality. If anything, I feel she's matured a lot as an actress. I think this film is a little more 'mature' than 'My Tutor Friend', its spectrum a little broader, and that's all because of the script, which allowed us to act naturally straight from the beginning. This is not just a comedy, and if those who looked at the trailer will expect that, then that worries me a little. More than going for laughs all the time, I think the most important element of the film is the warmth the character conveys. Of course as a Korean actor, the domestic market is always the most important, yet playing a role in opening our culture to people in other countries is something that means a lot to me. I gave my all in shooting 'Running Wild', and I really expected this film to do great, since the reaction at the screening was so good. I think it would sell something like 5 Million tickets, but since it didn't do well I feel like all our hard work went in vain. I never thought I was a good actor. Sure, I might have been awarded with Popularity prizes, but my acting hasn't been recognized on that kind of stage yet. All I'm thinking about now is doing my best for the film, doing action for an action film, creating laughter for a comedy... everything. I hope people will not expect too much, and if they approach the film as something comfortable and entertaining to watch, then I think they'll be satisfied."

KIM HA-NEUL
"Her father is disabled, so she's learned ever since her childhood the value of helping other people, and is a really warm person, dreaming of becoming an actress. Yes, she suffers from stage fright, but she does her best to overcome that, and is a really bright and cheerful student. I think Kwon Sang-Woo hasn't changed either, he keeps working hard and giving his best. But if there's anything that changed it's his ability to convey feelings through his acting, with more depth and intensity. Because of what happens in the second half, I think this film deviates from your usual melodrama, and that's why I chose it."

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QUICK JUDGMENT
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Movieweek's Hong Su-Kyung
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Screen's Park Hye-Eun
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Sports World's Hong Dong-Hee
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Sports Donga's Lee Ji-Young
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Segye Ilbo's Jung Jin-Soo
Film Quality: AVERAGE
Box Office Potential: GOOD

Cineseoul's Shim Eun-Joo
Film Quality: GOOD
Box Office Potential: GOOD

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청춘만화 (Almost Love)
Director: 이한 (Lee Han)
Cast: 권상우 (Kwon Sang-Woo), 김하늘 (Kim Ha-Neul), 박지빈 (Park Ji-Bin)
Official Website
Theatrical Trailer (Streaming, 500k, Windows Media)
Noraebang Scene Making Of (Streaming, 700k, Windows Media)
Highlight Reel (Streaming, 500k, Windows Media)

Movie Stills/Posters
Produced By: 팝콘필름 (Popcorn Film)
Distributed By: 쇼박스 (Showbox)
Rating: TBA
RELEASE: March 23

Sources
Yahoo Korea: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Cinetizen: 1
Film2.0: 1
nKino: 1

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