Hello Schoolgirl -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- Ryu Jang-ha's film may have a tantalizing title that suggests it's a typical Korean bubble-gum teen rom-com, but "Hello Schoolgirl" is actually a down-to-earth, personal work that explores the issues of a big age gap between lovers.

Producer CJ Entertainment could market this as an alternative coming-of-age film with prospects in ancillary and perhaps some Asian releases.

Eighteen-year-old Soo-young (Lee Yun-hee) strikes up a casual friendship with 30-year-old neighbor Yun-woo (Yoo Ji-tae) when she boldly borrows his tie while taking the subway. A slow-burning, touchy-feely closeness develops, even though they get no further than holding hands. Even so, Soo-young's single mother is alarmed, and the pair have to re-assess their situation.

Yoo makes a visible effort to downplay his romantic ("Ditto") or ice-cool ("Old Boy") screen images here with an unostentatious turn as a square but easy-going civil servant who's shy about expressing his feelings but forthcoming about his loneliness. Meanwhile, Lee's gentle performance pitches Soo-young's sensibility somewhere between naive and precocious.

The simple script provides a foil and counterpoint to their predicament through another encounter, also inside the subway, between Yun-woo's 22-year-old co-worker Sook (Kang In) and a 29-year-old woman, Ha-kyung (Chae Yun-an). Sook is more expressive about his instant infatuation, but Ha-kyung is cold and distant. Age is not as much as issue, because they carry other emotional baggage -- of someone close gone missing.

The subject could have been treated in a lurid way, but Ryu chooses to avoid any trace of Lolita complex and instead observes the characters as individuals honest to their feelings, whatever social pressure they encounter. The rhythm is unhurried, with the two couples' friendship-cum-attraction running its natural course, as in real life.

Only the soft pop score, and a prettified scene of Yun-woo showering Soo-young with artificial snow, keep the film within the boundaries of commercial filmmaking.

Production companies: M&FC presents in association with CJ Entertainment a Let's Film Production

Cast: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Yun-hee, Chae Yun-an, Kang In
Director-screenwriter: Ryu Jang-ha
Based on a webcomic by: Kang Full
Executive producer: Cho Sung-woo
Producer: Kim Soon-ho
Director of photography: Jo Sang-yoon
Production designer: Hwang In-joon
Music: Choi Yong-rak.
Costume designer: Ko Seo-jung.
Editor: Moon In-dae
Sales: CJ Entertainment Inc.
No rating, 113 minutes