Man in Love: Berlin Review

A familiar and completely illogical tragic romance no less predictable for it gender reversal.

Popular Korean actor Hwang Jung-min anchors rookie director Han Dong-wook’s romantic melodrama.

A petty thug and a banker with money problems are the lonely, tragic souls at the center of the awkwardly titled Man in Love, a by-the-numbers romantic melodrama that is distinguished from the canon by its terminal illness being inflicted upon a man for a change. In the grand tradition of the Korean tearjerker (and really, no one does these better), an unlikely couple finds common ground and eventually true love only to see it taken away from them. There are many tears. Though the material may not be to everyone’s tastes, like most current major releases from Korea Man in Love is extremely well produced and should find a home on most screens in Asia-Pacific that had success with the like of A Moment to Remember and the Japanese weepie Crying out Love in the Center of the World. Festival play could be limited by the film’s mainstream nature.

With the exception of the dying man, first time director Han Dong-wook stays inside the lines with the story, which begins when loan shark muscle Tae-il (Hwang Jung-min, The Unjust, Fists of Legend) storms into a hospital to collect outstanding payment (at 49 percent!) on a loan from a sick man. His daughter is with him, and after some angry words and a threat to roll the man out of the hospital on his stretcher (really?) Ho-jung (television star Han Hye-jin) agrees to Tae-il’s terms. Initially they’re to work off her debt as a bar girl, but as time goes by Tae-il develops something of a crush on her and the “job” becomes going out with him.

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There is very little new or creative in Man if Love from a narrative perspective, as director Han isn’t interested in reinventing the wheel as it were. He does take his time in crafting Tae-il and Ho-jung’s (still implausible) relationship, however, and it’s refreshing to see the expected anger from Ho-jung where traditionally there is meek acquiescence. The pair is getting more serious as a couple when Tae-il gets thrown back in jail for two years.

Up to that point Man in Love is relatively satisfying romance thanks to Hwang and Han’s appeal and when he’s released—armed with new knowledge of a terminal brain tumor and three months to live—that’s when it takes a turn for the maudlin. Of course Tae-il doesn’t tell anyone about his illness, including his rightfully bitter brother Young-il (Kwak Do-won, The Attorney). Of course he hunts down his old loan shark boss, Doo-chul (Jung Man-sik, Miracle in Cell 7) and winds up agreeing to One Last Job (a convention that needs to die if ever there was one) that goes hideously wrong. Of course said job ruins plans for a future with an oblivious Ho-jung and crushes her. But that’s okay; it’s for the best. Because he’s dying.

The remainder of the film plays out exactly as it should according to the rules. There’s more crying, some making of amends, new and renewed connections with family and swelling music. It’s hard to fault Man in Love for executing its plan perfectly, familiar as it may be. It’s ideal fare for audiences that know what they’re getting and above all relish it. Everyone else will simply steer clear.

Producer: Han Jae-Duk, Park Min-Jung

Director: Han Dong-wook

Cast: Hwang Jung-min, Han Hye-jin, Kwak Do-won, Jung Man-sik, Kim Hye-eun, Nam Il-woo

Screenwriter: Yoo Kab-Yeol, Han Dong-Wook

No rating, 120 minutes