'Because I Love You': Film Review
Cha Tae-hyun and emerging actress Kim You-jung star as a reluctant Cupid and his right hand in Joo Ji-hong’s sophomore effort.
If ever an Asian romantic comedy was ripe for the remake picking, it is director Joo Ji-hong’s lightweight Because I Love You, a trifle that marries body-swapping and some Cupid shenanigans to pleasant but entirely forgettable ends. About as deep as a rain puddle and not quite as thematically challenging as an average Looney Tunes bit, Because I Love You is nonetheless the kind of harmless, inoffensive, easily digested rom-com that translates well across Asia-Pacific, where it should see at least modest returns after an equally modest run at home in Korea. Elsewhere, it may be too mainstream for the festival scene, but it’s the type of malleable fare that is apt for English-language (or other) reimagining (which would be no more baffling than Bride Wars or Three Men and a Cradle). Until then, download services may be the film’s best option.
On his way to propose marriage to his fiancee Hyung-kyoung (Seo Hyeon-jin), Lee-hyung (the freakishly youthful Cha Tae-hyun) gets himself into a wholly avoidable car wreck and winds up in the ICU. While his body lies in the hospital, his spirit (or essence, or soul, it’s never specified) starts hopping from person to person, first landing inside pregnant high schooler Mal-hee (Kim Yoon-hye). While in control of her body and mind, Lee-hyung decides an abortion is the best plan of action for the teen with university aspirations. Also a good idea: dumping well-meaning boyfriend Yo-seb, who plans to own his transgression and take care of them both. Naturally, Mal-hee/Lee-hyung has a change of heart at the clinic, and when Mal-hee reunites — with love in her heart — with Yo-seb, Lee-hyung is “exorcised,” moving on to the next soul in need of romantic direction.
That pattern repeats with Lee-hyung reconciling a workaholic detective, Park (Sung Dong-il), and his wife (Oh Na-ra) in their heretofore crumbling marriage; Mal-hee’s sweet but awkward teacher Mr. Ahn (veteran supporting player Bae Sung-woo), who has hottie Da-in (Kim Sa-hee) after him but no clue as to how to proceed; and an elderly couple (Sun Woo Yong-nyeo and Park Keun-hyong) rekindling their lifelong commitment in the face of illness. Lee-hyung’s partner in love crime is Mal-hee’s friend Scully (Kim You-jung, Thread of Lies), who somehow is able to understand the astral plane goings-on. If you think for a second there won’t be happy endings all around — including for Lee-hyung — you haven’t seen enough rom-coms.
Director Joo has been quiet since making his low-key debut in 2009 with Maybe, a somber road-trip melodrama about a pair of misfits on an ill-defined personal journey. This time around, Joo dispenses with existential meditations in favor of transparent narrative machinations, uncomplicated messaging and pedestrian filmmaking. That’s not to say there’s no room at the multiplex for fluff. Because I Love You does have its moments — Kim’s Scully is amusingly millennial, and Bae is genuinely charming as the nice guy who doesn’t appreciate his own value — but they’re tucked between a great deal of sentimental dross and Cha pratfalling at the sight of himself in a dress.
Befitting his age, Cha, who has never quite shaken the mugging, put-upon persona of his 2001 breakout My Sassy Girl — so much so he revisited the character in one of 2016’s worst films, the China-Korea co-production My New Sassy Girl — eases up on the hamming a bit, but ultimately it’s just a slightly more mature version of a familiar shtick that’s starting to fray around the edges. It may be unfair to put all the film’s shortcomings at the feet of Cha when writer Hwang Seung-jae’s script is so rote, but it’s hard not to wonder when the industry is going to let him grow up.
Production company: AD406
Cast: Cha Tae-hyun, Kim You-jung, Seo Hyeon-jin, Park Keun-hyong, Seon Woo Yong-nyeo, Sung Dong-il, Bae Sung-woo, Lim Ju-hwan, Kim Yoon-hye, Oh Na-ra
Director: Joo Ji-hong
Screenwriter: Hwang Seung-jae
Producer: Cha Ji-hyun
Executive producer: Kim Woo-taek
Director of photography: Kim Ki-tae
Production designer: Lee Yo-han
Costume designer: Ko Hee-jung
Editor: Kim Chang-ju
Music: Kim Jun-seok
World sales: Contents Panda