The public descriptions of this movie are somewhat misleading. Jeong-seok (played by Jung Jae-young) is indeed a man who plans every single part of his life. But the titular "Plan Man" is not some starry-eyed movie ideal of charming wackiness. His obsessive compulsive disorder is a genuine sickness, and the movie treats it as such. From the beginning we see Jeong-seok attending therapy sessions, and much of the supporting cast shares in the general pain of knowing that they're being psychologically irrational, but not really able to do anything about it.
These somewhat dark overtones notwithstanding, "Plan Man" is nonetheless still accurately described as a comedy, and a fairly effective one at that. The jokes tend to be some variation on Jeong-seok being flustered because he has to do something in a way that doesn't match his plan. It's a degrading and humiliating experience for him to be even a minute off his meticulously organized schedule, and so too does the viewer laugh at his pain.
But the other characters don't. Even though they see all this same absurd behavior, on a basic level they've just learned to accept Jeong-seok as he is, while still recognizing he needs to change and get treatment. The reactions other characters have to Jeong-seok's psychological panic are nearly as much of a treat as Jeong Jae-young's performance as the flustered man. There's just something terribly absurd about a crowd of people breaking into applause over Jeong-seok's tiny victories- but they know he needs the encouragement, since psychologically, failing to follow through on the plans completely screws with his brain.
Even So-jeong (played by Han Ji-min) is respectful of this basic boundary, and she's the most eccentric character in the story by a wide margin. So-Jeong does weird stuff even outside the context of Jeong-seok's mental impairment. Her own character arc similarly deals with psychological issues. Not serious ones, really- given her temperament and interests these particular disasters were probably inevitable.
Interestingly, even though both Jeong-seok and So-jeong have clearly telegraphed antagonistic opposites, neither of them take center stage the way one might expect in a more traditional narrative. What Jeong-seok and So-jeong want is to just live a normal life, doing things they want to do, without having to worry about emotional brutality. Both of them are able to find that in relatively non-confrontational ways. Their road to recovery starts by acknowledging where the problem came from, then trying to make themselves understand that self-hatred isn't the answer.
"Plan Man" is not perfect in the realization of these ideas. It's a tad long, and the ultimate explanation behind Jeong-seok's mental ills is somewhat overdramatic, given that for the most part he just comes off as a normal guy with an unusual problem. But neither of these issues detract too much from what is ultimately a very emotionally honest movie that engages the viewer strongly starting from comedy, and then moving on to clear human empathy. It's an experience that gets richer upon deeper consideration. Indeed, I even found the music questionable to start out with- but by the end even that is more than mere performance, comedy, or filler. It's how these people want to live, and good on them for knowing what that is for themselves.
Review by William Schwartz
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Plan Man""
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