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Life's Little Melodramas at Age 9

2004/03/25 | 785 views | Permalink | Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter

With their exaggerated relationships and overblown plots, there's something unrealistic, immature and, for many of us, slightly addictive about the romances portrayed in popular television dramas. "Ahopsal Insaeng (When I Turned Nine)", a new film opening today, literally brings out this childish side of melodramas in its look at life and love in an elementary school during the 1970s.

Though ostensibly a children's movie, "Nine" seems more of a film that adults would be interested in than younger viewers. A lot of the poignancy of the story stems from watching children maneuver the complicated waters of their feelings with the seriousness of adults.

The storyline follows your basic blueprint for romantic dramas. Yo-min (Kim Suk) comes from a poor family and has a mother with a disability but seems to have a good handle on his life and who he is. Endowed with an impressive ability to fight as well as a good head on his shoulders, Yo-min uses his powers for good only, protecting fellow classmates from older bullies and generally keeping the peace in the schoolyard.

All is well in our young hero's world until a new student arrives. At first, the children of the rural town don't know what to make of U-rim (Lee Se-young), a prim and proper young girl from Seoul. She seems to exude urban sophistication, but at the same time has more than her share of attitude and pride. However, for Yo-min, who has the luck to be seated next to her, it's love at first sight.

Using many of the conventions of melodramas, Yoon slyly plays off the irony stemming from the innocence of children playing adult games. Yo-min finds himself entangled in a love triangle between U-rim and Kum-bok (Nah A-hyeon), a close companion of Yo-min who has a secret crush on him, and their playground fights and arguments become transformed into little battles of will that can hold their own in any soap opera. The plot twists, romantic or otherwise, are kept relatively simple but remain engaging throughout.

While the film does have fun with the children, "Nine" doesn't stray too much into parody to make the story seem farcical. Director Yoon In-ho nicely complements the cuteness of the romantic drama with scenes from the village that feel more true to life. Especially the classroom scenes, which show the contradictory forces of cruelty and kindness in both students and teachers, give the film enough doses of reality to keep it grounded.

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