"You have no idea of her pain and suffering... you only know what you see."
Tae-il (Cha Tae-hyun) is in love with Il-mae (Son Ye-jin) - a girl who was raised by Tae-il’s mother when her own mother died in childbirth. Il-mae's father, Young-dal (Yoo Dong-geun) - who is also Tae-il's teacher - has promised Tae-il his daughter's hand in marriage if Tae-il can pass a specific educational milestone, but each time Tae-il succeeds in the task he is set, Young-dal demands something more before he will even consider allowing Tae-il to ask Il-mae to marry him. As Tae-il studies for the law bar exam (the latest task that he has been set), he makes a further pact with Young-dal to protect Il-mae (and keep her virginity intact) in the hope of gaining her father's trust and increase his chances of eventually getting to be with her. However, when Il-mae starts seeing another man, Tae-il and Young-dal realise they must take matters into their own hands, and join forces to ensure that Tae-il and Il-mae finally end up together...
For a romantic comedy to work in any respect, it needs to be... well... funny and romantic. Unfortunately, Crazy First Love is neither.
The film begins well enough, with a fairly humourous (albeit slightly silly) cartoon introduction of the main characters, their history and their relationships to each other - although, even here, things are pushed a little too far with an overuse of cartoon depictions of breasts, complete with lactating nipples - however, no sooner does the live action get underway than we are subjected to an almost endless display of ill-conceived, and not very funny, scenes mostly centering around the, frankly, unlikeable character of Tae-il:
The first, and most noticeable, criticism of Tae-il's character is that he seems virtually incapable of uttering a sentence without screaming the words in overwrought and overplayed yells. These begin as being just annoying, but after over an hour of them, they verge on becoming unbearable. Having seen Cha Tae-hyun in many starring roles, his performances routinely being accomplished and nuanced, it is likely that the dreadful performance seen here was the direct result of being instructed to play the character in such a way by director Oh Jong-rok, and the fact that the character of Young-dal (Il-mae's father) is prone to similar repeated outbursts would seem to confirm this further.
Secondly, it can't be denied that Tae-il's desires are utterly self-serving. He takes no heed of what anyone (especially Il-mae) actually wants or needs, is utterly determined that she will be his at any cost and it's clear that he's never going to give up, regardless of how unwanted his amorous attentions are, or become.
Add to that the fact that it would be obvious to anyone (not least a character who supposedly has an IQ of 148) that Tae-il's choices of actions in his attempts to win Il-mae's heart (by ruining her every evening out, embarrassing her at her place of work, following her around incessantly and, again and again, yelling at her abusively at the top of his lungs) would make any girl consider calling the police and demanding a restraining order. Instead, Il-mae puts up with it all, even trying to seduce Tae-il at one point (for reasons that are deliberately withheld from viewers until the final stages of the film) - her advances, by the way, he turns down - and she finally decides that she should marry another man, who has many other lovers, for Tae-il's own good. Once again, this is fully explained in the latter stages of the film and, like many of the other story elements, is majorly illogical.
In the film's final section, the story lurches into full-blown melodrama, but even here the hope that some genuine emotion may emerge is dashed by the mirroring of heartbreaking scenes from several much more accomplished films (Il-mae tearfully shouting her true feelings for Tae-il when he is too far away to hear, for example - ring any bells?) and even though this section of Crazy First Love is easily the strongest, it too is utterly destroyed by further attempts to add whacky, comedic elements (again, not nearly as funny as they should, or could, be, and rather misplaced - especially within supposedly heartbreaking scenes).
The film concludes by attempting to leave the audience with a warm, happy feeling but, considering the full story which viewers are already aware of at that point, it serves only to leave a bitter taste, of being deceived, in the mouth.
Finally, any attempt to address serious themes (be it the school system, or discussions of how studying hard and becoming a well-educated, well-balanced individual will result in goals ultimately being attained) largely fails as a result of, yet again, a complete lack of focus throughout, along with some severely suspect implictions - what Young-dal chooses to do to the students he has just beaten, and Tae-il's choice of punishment for Il-mae's suitors, to mention but two.
From all of the above, you would be forgiven for thinking that the underlying story is ultimately to blame, but I really don't believe that to be the case. Okay, so a major reworking of the “logic” within certain scenes is desperately required, and there's nothing in the plot that fans of Korean romantic comedy and melodrama won't have seen before (in many films), but that's just the point: In other hands, Crazy First Love could, perhaps, have been an engaging romantic comedy with some poignant moments but, sadly, what we end up with here is lacking the romance and genuine comedy it so desperately needs and largely struggles to build any emotional resonance whatsoever.
Crazy First Love simply consists of ideas from other superior movies, nailed together by illogical character motivations and bad characterisations.
So, is there anything good at all to say about Crazy First Love?
Well, yes - and it's Son Ye-jin: Of all the performances, hers is the only one worthy of any merit, the only one which shows any real emotion, and the only one worthy to actually be called acting. Sadly, an utter lack of chemistry between the characters of Il-mae and Tae-il (once again down to the handling of scenes, and the fact that no romance is shown in any real respect until the final twenty minutes of the film) means that Son Ye-jin is fighting a losing battle from start to finish and, for an actress as talented as she has repeatedly shown herself to be, that is an utter shame.
In other hands, Crazy First Love could, perhaps, have been an engaging romantic comedy with some poignant moments but, sadly, what we end up with here is simply a collection of borrowed ideas from other superior movies, nailed together by annoying characters and illogical character motivations.
Cast (Character... Actor):
Il-mae… Son Ye-jin
Tae-il… Cha Tae-hyun
Young-dal... Yoo Dong-geun
The DVD used for the review is the Korean (Region 3) release from Starmax, provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image is clear and sharp with no noticeable digital artifacts present.
Sound is a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 and both of these are crisp and clear, though some of the volume levels positively explode in several of the more action-oriented scenes.
The English subtitles provided for the main feature are decent enough, though there are a few grammatical errors evident. English-speaking viewers should also note that, as with many Korean DVD releases, there are no subtitles available on any of the extras.
Making Film (Featurette)
Animation for Crazy First Love
• Director: Oh Jong-rok
• Format: NTSC,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Subtitles: Korean, English, None
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0
• Region: Region 3
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 2
• Classification: 12