Fantasia 2009 – ‘My Dear Enemy’

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My Dear Enemy
Directed by Lee Yoon-ki

Furthering a developing hypothesis that South Koreans are launching a charm offensive against all hallowed Western film archetypes, the splendid My Dear Enemy, a spiritual kin to last year’s Adrift in Tokyo (from Japan), contains elements of the road movie, the romantic comedy, and Woody Allen-style light observational humor, yet kowtows to the conventions of none of those.

So, yes, we do get what seems to be a typical “opposites attract” scenario, with its ex-lovers (Jeon Do-yeon and Ha Jung-woo) finding themselves on an extended tour of Seoul in order to settle an old debt. Where Do-yeon’s Hee-su is outwardly cold, temperamental and unsentimental, Jung-woo’s Byung-woon is endlessly charming and accommodating. This creates a protracted tug-of-war, wherein Hee-su tries to push herself as far away as possible, and Byung-woon simply finds new ways to try and put her at ease, all the while inauspiciously putting out his own fires.

Low-key dynamics like these need a sure directorial hand to not bore viewers to tears, and luckily Yoon-ki seems to understand this principle, peppering the film with unique framing, and casual-not-showy long takes.Do-yeon and Jung-woo are both consistently strong, with Do-yeon concealing nearly every expected emotional response, but finding subtle ways to key viewers in on her state nonetheless. Complete with a concluding shot straight out of classic 70s cinema, My Dear Enemy is a nice corrective if you’ve grown tired of the splattery variants of Asian film.

– Simon Howell

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