"Was 'Harry Potter' written by a wizard?"
Jeong-bae (Lee Seon-gyun) is a talented manwha (Korean manga) artist who agrees to take part in a competition to design and write an adult comic book, in the hope of winning the 130 million Won prize money which would enable him to regain possession of a family heirloom. However, with his woeful inability to write interesting storylines being a major stumbling block to his chances of success, he reluctantly decides to employ writer Da-rim (Choi Gang-heui) to undertake the scriptwriting duties, agreeing to share the prize money 50-50, if they win.
Jeong-bae is initially blissfully unaware that Da-rim lied in her interview for the position and, far from being a successful writer, was, in fact, fired from her last job as a sex columnist for copying text "from the Karma Sutra to the Kinsey Report", to cover up her lack of knowledge about sex, but as their work on the comic book gets underway, Jeong-bae begins to not only suspect that Da-rim isn't nearly as experienced as she claims to be, but also that she might not ever have actually "done it". Not only that, but both Jeong-bae and Da-rim increasingly come to believe that the other is developing a crush on them, and the question quickly becomes whether their working relationship will ultimately be destroyed by the discovery of the truth behind their mis-informed assumptions, or if their work on the comic will eventually lead to them fall into each other's arms...
For any romantic comedy to successfully fulfill its remit, it needs to be romantic (obviously), without being saccharine, and genuinely funny without being forced or overly contrived. Thankfully, Petty Romance easily ticks all of the necessary boxes and, like many of the very best examples of the genre, the film's focus on the intricacies of the growing relationship between two extremely likeable and deeply eccentric characters, combined with a script full of well thought out, and perfectly placed, laugh-out-loud moments, ensures that viewers' hearts will be touched, and their funny bones tickled, repeatedly, and almost effortlessly, throughout.
Of the two main characters' personality traits, Da-rim's many eccentricities are easily the funniest, with the humour gently seesawing between dialogue-based laughs and visual comedy (for example: When trying to prove that her lack of sexual experience doesn't adversely affect her ability to write about sex, she screams "Was Harry Potter written by a wizard?"; and mention must also be made of the deeply amusing scene resulting from Jeong-bae's annoyed decision to spit in Da-rim's coffee), and the effort taken by writer and first time director Kim Jeong-hoon to pay close attention to even the tiniest details of both Da-rim and Jeong-bae's personalities (and their reactions to each other's idiosyncrasies) really does pay a noticeable dividend.
On top of the main relationship plotline, the addition of related sub-plots adds yet more to this - most noticeably in the efforts of Da-rim's friend, Kyung-sun (Ryu Hyun-kyung), to seduce Jeong-bae in the most un-subtle and overtly sexual way she can; and in the bugging of Jeong-bae's apartment by fellow artist Hae-ryong (Oh Jung-se), determined to find out for sure if Jeong-bae and Da-rim are having sex.
The adult comic book storyline is utterly inspired and the decision to mix live action with graphic novel imagery allows both humour based around the imaginations of the characters (once again, particularly in the case of Da-rim) as well as extreme violence and a certain amount of sexual content to be played in an almost innocent, and genuinely funny, way. The comic book visuals are incredibly well realised and take on a somewhat three dimensional quality, and it must be said that even those viewers who are already aware that they form part of the film will be pleasantly surprised when they begin to appear.
As Jeong-bae and Da-rim's relationship grows, the sub-plot of Jeong-bae's endeavours to regain possession of the aforementioned family heirloom (a painting) may seem just a little contrived, but its usefulness in allowing Petty Romance to intelligently twist the usual romantic comedy clichés, as the conclusion of proceedings draws near, serves to allow an ending which retains both the comedy and romance of the rest of the film, making its use ultimately worthwhile.
Of course, any romantic comedy such as this can only be as nuanced and well realised as the performances of the main characters allow and, here too, Petty Romance succeeds with aplomb. The chemistry between Lee Seon-gyun and Choi Gang-heui is quite possibly the strongest that this reviewer has seen in a month of romantic comedy Sundays, and it is blatantly clear throughout that both actors positively revel in their roles (on several occasions, actually seeming to wallow in them) adding an extra level to the comedy present, increasing the believability of their individual and combined stories, and thereby building viewer empathy, almost without a second thought.
Main Cast: Lee Seon-gyun, Choi Kang-hee, Ryu Hyun-kyung, Oh Jung-se
Live action and graphic novel imagery combine within this genuinely funny and warmly romantic tale to ensure that Petty Romance both touches the heart and tickles the funny bone throughout, though not necessarily in that order.
At the time of writing this review, Petty Romance is available as a Limited Edition, First Press, 2-disc, Region 3 (Korean) DVD release, presented with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Full DVD details and extras are given below:
Petty Romance (DVD) 2-Disc (Limited Edition First Press Korean Version)
Director: Kim Jeong-hoon
Subtitles: English, Korean, none
Country of Origin: South Korea
Picture Format: NTSC
Disc Format(s): 2-Disc DVD (Dual layer, single-sided)
Region Code: Region 3
Classification: III (Korean Film Classification)
Duration: 118 mins (approx.)
Audio Commentary (with cast and crew)
‘Making of’ Featurette
Poster photo shoot
Questions and Answers (Press Conference)