Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: Cyrano Agency / 시라노;연애조작단 (2010)

Anyone familiar with Korean cinema will know that the romantic comedy genre is a staple of the industry, usually pitting an enviously good lucking guy and girl up against the odds to get together and live happily ever after. However in ‘Cyrano Agency’, this tried and tested method got given a refreshing and cynical twist, and came out all the better for it.

The movies unique concept is no doubt down to director and screenwriter Kim Hyeon-seok. ‘Cyrano Agency’ is his third, and at the time of writing latest movie, having not only directed but also wrote the screenplays for his previous efforts as well. Hyeon-seok is a versatile guy, and fans of Korean cinema will most likely have seen something he’s worked on one way or another. Weather it be as an actor in the movie ‘Chingu / 친구’, as the screenwriter for ‘JSA – Joint Security Area - 공동경비구역 JSA’, or as assistant director on ‘The Isle / 섬’. With ‘Cyrano Agency’, he transferred to screen a concept he first developed while still in film school, and it was certainly worth the wait to see it come to fruition.

To summarize the plot would be best done by imagining the ‘Mission: Impossible’ movies, only swap Tom Cruise for Eom Tae-woong, and swap scenarios such as trying to stop someone from trying to end the world, to trying to make a girl fall in love with the guy that’s hired them. Essentially Tae-woong and his team, played by Park Sin-hye, Park Cheol-min, and Jeon Ah-min, play a group of out of work actors who, from a run down old theater, operate an agency that specializes in making people fall in love. How do they do this? By writing carefully researched scripts, creating perfectly timed eye contact, and making that all important first kiss on a rainy evening (if it’s not raining enough, don’t worry there’s a rain machine overhead).

If all this sounds very cynical, it is. The genius of ‘Cyrano Agency’ is that it plays out a bunch of completely manufactured and familiar romantic scenarios before our very eyes, yet as the audience we still find ourselves having some emotional investment in them. Do we care because we want Tae-woong and his team to have successfully completed their mission, or do we want to see the couple get together, even though it’s been done through a series of tricks and blindsides? It’s a great concept which is entertainingly played out throughout the movie.

Things get tricky when a new client, played by Daniel Choi, arrives on the scene and wants to hire them to make a girl he met at church, played by Lee Min-jeong, fall in love with him. The catch is, Min-jeong is Tae-woong’s old flame from their days in France together. Will Tae-woong be able to put his feelings aside and complete the mission, or will he try to sabotage things in an attempt to get back with Min-jeong?

Beneath the movies slick exterior and witty charm, there are actually some interesting themes being explored. The circumstances in which Tae-woong & Min-jeong finished are never fully revealed until the final act, which leads us into questioning which way the dilemma should unfold. Should Tae-woong reveal the fact that he still has feelings for Min-jeong and come clean, or should he help Choi to get with her, who has good intentions, but ultimately the guy who she falls for would be someone that Tae-woong has helped to create the image of, not Choi himself.

The bigger picture of what happens after they get the couples together is only touched upon once, when the team accidentally stumbles upon a couple they helped to get together at the start of the movie. The guy couldn’t keep up the image the team had created for him, and ended up cheating on the girl who they’d helped to fall for him. She breaks down in front of them, which by normal genre conventions should be the point when the team come to the realization of how crazy what they’re doing is, or at least suffer some sort of comeuppance. However ‘Cyrano Agency’ doesn’t play by normal genre rules, and as a result by the end nobody bothers to question if what they’re doing is right or wrong, instead it leaves a feeling that perhaps the lesson to be learnt is not about learning from our mistakes, but rather learning to live with them.

While the movie shies away from addressing the wider implications, we’re left with the focus laying solely on the triangle of Tae-woong, Choi, & Min-jeong. ‘Cyrano Agency’ scores its biggest points in the fact that it creates a main character in that of Tae-woong, whose biggest decision is to either (a) trick and deceive his ex-girlfriend into falling in love with his client, Choi, or (b) steal her away from him regardless of his or her past mistakes. While neither option sounds particularly attractive on paper, the movie is too busy looking good and having fun with its Mission: Impossible style concept applied to romance, that as an audience we’re left too preoccupied with smiling to care about these moral ambiguities, and who knows, maybe that was director Hyeon-seok’s point.

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