Can a film really be faulted for aiming to be beautiful?
Hello Schoolgirl (순정만화) is often blindingly so. The soft afternoon flares, the careful attention to fixing a flickering light bulb, the aerosol snow that melts a heart one floor down and later fills a lonely room; luminously lit and lilting moments that distract from the inelegant motions of lovers with significant age disparity.
Yeon-woo (Yoo Ji-tae) is a polite, 30-year old civil servant who falls for 17-year old high school student Soo-yeung (Lee Yeon-hee). Soo-yeung finds the doting, older man adorable and eventually yearns to take their relationship to a higher level. Over dinner, she blurts out that she never wants to grow up because all the adults in her life have turned into crouching cowards.
Director Ryu Jeong-ha approaches the film as an adult, creating beauty of out self-control, and yes, cowardice.
Yoo Ji-tae's Yeon-woo is what most of us have become in our thirties: complacent, easily pleased with kindness, and comfortable with his place in the society. Pleasures are enjoyed in moderation; love happens when it happens, and if it is from a distance, then so be it. There is no grand unraveling of the character. A joyfully quite ride on a bicycle, driven by Yoo Ji-tae's knack for simmering characterization, becomes the glorious race to the sunset. It's not much, but when was the last time you deliberately made time to look around around and like where you are? (Thank you, The Sundays.)
The other story switches the perspective: Yeon-woo's new colleague, Sook (Kang In), falls for a mysterious older woman, Kwon Ha-kyeong, who always carries an old film camera around. She enjoys the company of Sook, but she fears the coincidences that are too similar with her previous relationship. In contrast, this plot takes delight in the silliness that a youg man is willing to go through for courtship; the absence of pride in the name of love. Super Junior's Kang In (insert inaudible squeal) takes his popular backstage antics to film, making the rough, fumbling Sook frighteningly relatable.
I'm not familiar with the original webcomic by Kang Full, but Hello Schoolgirl is too beautiful for a controversial subject matter. Maybe that is the intention. The hand held cam show the underlying turmoil, but the surface has an untouchable sheen, celebrating the love, but burying the heartache.
Visit Hello Schoolgirl at Han Cinema.