The opening to "Shall We Kiss First" is spoken poetry against the lonely backdrop of a beach, discussing the concept of solitude as it relates to the road of life. Then we see Soon-jin (played by Kim Sun-ah) sarcastically talking to a plant about how lucky it is to have a short lifespan, free of worries. Then we realize that her upstairs neighbor Moo-han (played by Kam Woo-sung) has a sick dog. These are fundamentally sad characters, then Soon-jin gets caught up in a jazzy chase sequence.
The tone for "Shall We Kiss First" is all over the place. We simultaneously see both disturbing and the comical implications in a horrific subplot that involves Moo-han getting trapped inside his own bathroom. At no point, though, does "Shall We Kiss First" seem like a comedy, because normally humorous moments are played off as a matter of serious indignity. Soon-jin and Moo-han constantly want to be left alone, yet become inexplicably frightened the minute that wish is granted.
Even the product placement is off-kilter. Talking appliances have been all the rage lately, yet the sequence where Moo-han plays a simple word game with a machine he owns comes off as pathetic more than it does impressive. Metaphorically Soon-jin and Moo-han are trapped in their apartments- as in, they don't have lives outside them. They do have to leave their apartments to earn a living. But even at work, Soon-jin and Moo-han are more functional than they are genuinely engaged.
There's this strong sense that the lead characters are repressed, not so much in the emotional sense, as they are just humanistically. They look back on past relationship failures with a kind of resentment, not at other people so much at themselves, because Soon-jin and Moo-han consider themselves broken. I mean yeah, Soon-jin is pretty brutal to Ji-min (played by Park Si-yeon). But in the first place, Ji-min isn't that sympathetic, and in the second place, Soon-jin seems to be intentionally trying to provoke Ji-min into an overreaction.
The question Soon-jin and Moo-han are constantly asking themselves, sometimes even explicitly, is why aren't they dead yet? They both feel too old to be able to make any kind of conventional success out of themselves, and really, Soon-jin and Moo-han aren't sure they even want conventional success in the first place. They're just sort of adrift in life, doubtful at the prospect of rescue, yet not really willing to just let go and end it all.
Review by William Schwartz
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Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Shall We Kiss First" Episodes 1-2"
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