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BUSAN, South Korea — The characters of the charmingly wry comedy “I Am in Trouble!” could pass for the younger selves of Hong Sangsoo’s narcissistic and libidinous intellectuals. Yet to new director So Sang-min’s credit, he is not a mere Hong wannabe. His chronicle of a poet-slacker’s blundering attempts to adjust to the real world is underscored by pert observations on insecurities of Korea’s post-college crowd. As So artfully draws out more and more facets of his protagonist through prosaic but telling vignettes, one cannot help but warm to this beguiling character study.
Although this is probably too modest a film to be picked up by the mainstream or festivals scouting for innovative stylists, interest may grow after niche domestic release.
Deadbeat poet Sun-woo (Min Sun-wuk) sponges off his college buddy, Seung-kyu (Lee Seung-joon), and is forever evading commitment to his devoted girlfriend Yuna. His love life gets worse as he repeatedly offends Yuna and she ditches him over and over.
His other social interactions are a succession of boorish and juvenile behavior — from exposing himself in a public spa and hitting a taxi-driver in a drunken fit, to boozy bouts with his college alumni when taunted for his layabout life. In time, he infuriates Seung-kyu by sleeping with a girl he fancies.
The dry humor is mostly derived from the paradox of Sun-woo’s defensive pride towards any criticism, and his readiness to humiliate himself to get out of trouble, whether it’s kneeling for Yuna’s forgiveness, or dodging her blows after promising to take them like a man. Dialogue, even in translation, sounds glibly witty.
One senses that So eyes his protagonist’s foibles with bemused affection instead of the implicit superiority in Hong’s detached perspective. He accords Sun-woo the capacity for self-reflection. At one point, he says: “I want my life to be poetry, not poetry to be my life,” revealing some motivation to make more of his life.
Shot around typical Korean watering holes, cafes and bedrooms, So employs a deliberately bland style to match Sun-woo’s banal existence. The only hint of formalism is fixed frames of the couple sitting on park benches, which works as a comic refrain.
Pusan International Film Festival — Asia New Currents
Production: Korean Academy of Film Arts
Cast: Min Sung-wuk, Lee Seung-joon, Jung Jiyeon, Kim Jooryung
Director-screenwriter: So Sang-min
Producer: KAFA Films
Director of photography: Ou Tae-seok
Production designer: Park Jihyun
Music: Park Jaeseo, Lee Eunjung, Christopher Ruji
Editor: Kim Changjoo
Sales: CJ Entertainment Inc.
No rating, 98 minutes
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