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'Fortune Salon' Shows Crude Depiction of Love/Fate

2009/10/29 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Funnyman Im Chang-jung returns opposite yet another screen beauty, Park Ye-jin, in the slapstick "Fortune Salon". It appears difficult for the "Sex Is Zero" star to shed his typecast character in this half-way sex (rather than romantic) comedy, which rather strenuously tries to show that love (or lust) can prevail in the face of cruel destiny.

But more often than not, fate laughs at chance.
It's a shame because the movie could have done so much more with the classic premise of fate versus free will set against the exotic shamanist subculture that exists in modern Korea. Instead, it makes a disgrace out of one of the oldest traditions/religions here.

South Korea has long been rooted in shamanist beliefs. The fortune-telling market here amasses up to 3 trillion won annually. "Saju" (reading one's fate using one's birth date), physiognomy and, most recently, Western tarot-card reading booths and parlors can be easily spotted around town.

The film revolves around a posh Fortune Salon in the fashionable Cheongdam-dong district that boasts a celebrity clientele (a string of stars like Hyun-young and Eva make cameo appearances as themselves).

Tae-rang (Park) is the queen of the house who is gifted with not only amazing shamanistic talents ― microscopic clairvoyance and the like ― but also supermodel good looks.

Our heroine has made fortune and fame by providing others guidance in matters of the heart and mapping out big life plans. But alas, you cannot scratch your own back, and despite her highly eligible bachelorette status, she is doomed with the worst of luck (or fate?) when it comes to dating.

All the men she fancies end up being seriously harmed, and so "the 27-year-old virgin" (the movie actually makes a joke out of it) has long accepted her fate of perpetual "singledom".

We learn that Tae-rang inherited her supernatural abilities (granted by a spirit that possesses her) from her mother (veteran actress Kim Soo-mi). Her mother tells a young Tae-rang that her only shot at happiness lies in meeting the man of her destiny ― someone born at 11 p.m., May 16, 1978 ― before she turns 28.

This is where Im enters the scene as Seung-won, a scruffy, unemployed 32-year-old. One day, while walking down the street, he spots a 10,000-won bill and gets hit by Tae-rang's car while chasing after the money.

He capitalizes on the chance to make a lucrative cash settlement but is startled when the rich and beautiful Tae-rang asks him out on a date. After seeing his birth date, she curses karma: "Is this former equestrian who cannot pay the rent with his part time job as a horse urine collector really the man I was destined to meet?" But she decides to test out her fate (and patience).

The twist is that the car accident involved another man, who turns out to be Tae-rang's old flame (Lee Joon-hyuk). Will she choose love or destiny?

"Fortune Salon", the second feature by Kim Jin-young ("Baby and I"), is indeed laden with moments that tickle you with laughter ― but when you're not really supposed to laugh ― and thus dispels hope for inanely lighthearted entertainment.

The biggest problem is the one-note characters; the cast members are undoubtedly talented but there are limitations in what they can do with a poor script. Im is compelling in his role, which once again is more toad than Prince Charming, but his character has close to no redeeming factors. Even supporting characters have no clear function other than to offer crude sexual jokes (the movie is surprisingly rated only 15 and over).

In theaters Nov. 11.

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