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[MOVIE REVIEW] New comedy tests Cha's star power

2008/10/30 Source

No Korean actor automatically conjures up a comic image on the silver screen as much as Cha Tae-hyun

This is largely due to the huge success of his role in "My Sassy Girl", which opened the floodgates for the Korean Wave of cinema across Asia. This cuts both ways, however.

Cha comes back to the big screen with another comic role in "Speedy Scandal" (Gwasok Scandal), to be released on Dec. 4. It is hardly surprising that he plays a character who is supposed to create, well, comic relief.

What's surprising, though, is that he has accepted a role whose identity is somewhat similar to his own experiences as a leading star in Korea. In the film, directed by Kang Hyeong-cheol, Cha plays Nam Hyun-su, a former idol who captured the hearts of teenage fans.

Yes, he "was" a big star in the good old days, but he is now in his mid-30s, and his star power has significantly diminished.

But Nam retains some of his recognition. That is why he keeps a DJ post at a local radio show, a situation which may remind local audiences of numerous other Korean entertainers who have followed a similar path.

Things begin to turn drastically comic, or absurd, when a young woman named Jeong-nam (played by Park Bo-young) shows up and claims to be Nam's daughter. The movie's title, "Speedy Scandal", becomes clearer at this point because the central plot turn involves the male character's "speeding" during his past relationship.

The problem is, Nam has no memory of Jeong-nam, who begins to pop up everywhere and proclaim her wretched situation, to the embarrassment of the former idol.

It remains to be seen whether Cha pulls off a box-office success with his latest comic role, but what's certain is that it's time for Cha to reinvent his image and break the mold.

Early last year, he tried to tweak the formula a bit by playing a singer in "Highway Star" (Bokmyeon dalho). In the movie, co-directed by Kim Sang-chan and Kim Hyeon-soo, Cha jumped into the throat-vibrating terrain of melodramatic Korean pop songs -- a genre known here as "trot" that is quite similar in melody and lyrics to Japanese melodramatic enka songs -- but the results at the box office were hardly inspiring.

"Speedy Scandal", which is partly about the life's timing, will demonstrate whether Cha still maintains the public appeal that deserves attention from local directors and producers, not least of which is because his box-office power has steadily declined since "My Sassy Girl".

The outlook remains largely negative, however. For all the peculiar plot and details, "Speedy Scandal" does not attempt to redefine Cha's image. Rather, it sticks to his decade-long silver-screen persona.

In recent years, "My Girl and I", "Two Guys", "Happy Ero Christmas" relied on Cha" trademark comic talent but failed to win laughs in the end.

By Yang Sung-jin

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