Romance missing from Korean films

Two genres - the melodrama and the romantic comedy - used to do very well at the box office.

"200 Pounds Beauty" is a case in point. It deals with plastic surgery, but it is deeply rooted in the romantic comedy tradition in which love ultimately conquers all.

But Korean theaters in recent months have had few, if any, offerings that stir people to talk about the triumph of romance. The summer lineup continues the paucity of romantic flicks.

What happened?

Last week, "Public Enemy Returns", directed by Kang Woo-seok, rose to the No. 1 slot, offering a much-anticipated reprieve to the protracted slump in the local film industry. But the film, starring Sol Kyung-gu and Jung Jin-young, does not have any elements that can be categorized as romantic.

"Crossing", a film about North Korean defectors which is also getting a lot of attention, is about to hit theaters this week, but there is no room in that story for romance.

"The Good, the Bad, the Weird", a big-budget Korean film that unfolds in Manchuria, is also unlikely to strike a romantic chord with viewers. Although well-known Korean Wave stars Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho and Jung Woo-sung play title roles - a bandit, a train robber and a bounty hunter - and expectations are high that the film will do well, the movie is an action extravaganza that is devoid of the typical romantic plot.

The shortage of films about love might be a result of seasonal fluctuations. During the summer season, a host of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters tends to dominate the theaters, leaving few slots for melodramas and romantic comedy films. But, even considering the seasonal factor, it seems unusual that viewers now have no chance to watch decent romantic features by Korean filmmakers.

"Sunny" & "My Mighty Princess"

Another intriguing trend in the summer season is that most Korean films are led by male stars. "Sunny", starring the top-rated actress Soo Ae, is a welcome exception, but the overriding fact is that most Korean films do not have female actors as leads these days. Even "Sunny", which will be released next month, is not exactly a traditional Korean romantic film, since it focuses on the Vietnam War.

"My Mighty Princess", to be released nationally this week, will come as a mighty disappointment to those who expect a true-to-form romantic comedy. Director Kwak Jae-yong, who made a big, lasting splash with "My Sassy Girl", packaged the film as a romantic comedy in the context of martial arts. But it turns out that the film is more about martial arts battles, and the romantic comedy angle is pushed to the sidelines.

"My Mighty Princess" has all the potential elements of a good romantic comedy, but Kwak's priority is the colorful visual effects, with the help of wire action sequences, and he fails to build up a romance between its heroine So-hui (played by Shin Min-a) and her counterpart.

There was a boom of films about love in 2006, but, since then, the much-favored genre has been heading downhill. Early this year, "Lovers of 6 Years" with its stars Kim Ha-neul and Yoon Kye-sang, but it sold only 1.1 million tickets, falling far short of the high expectations that accompanied its release.

Late last year, leading director Han Ji-seung, who had enjoyed a high degree of popularity in the 1990s with sophisticated films such as "Yellow Ribbon" and "A Day", came back with the romantic comedy "Venus and Mars". Yet, despite the high-profile casting of Sol Kyung-gu and Kim Tae-hee, it tanked at the box office.

Discouraged by the poor sales for romantic films in recent months, screenwriters and directors are shifting their focus to other genres, particularly thrillers and action films. Melodrama and romantic comedy fans will wait probably have to wait for quite a while.

By Yang Sung-jin