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"Venus and Mars" Defies Expectation

2007/12/06 | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the discomfort felt when what you already know clashes with a new interpretation. "Venus and Mars" feeds off this idea from beginning to end, as director Han Ji-seung ("A Day", 2001) ironically defines love through the art of warfare, using a mix of genres dubbed "hardboiled" romantic comedy.

Called a romance guru for his hit TV series "Alone in Love" (Yeonaesidae, 2006, SBS), the director makes a comeback on the silver screen where he traces a highly volatile emotional -- and physical -- tug of war between a divorced couple.

Hot-blooded glass artist Jin-a (Kim Tae-hee) and faint-hearted, cleanliness-obsessed entomologist Sang-min (Sol Kyung-gu) have absolutely nothing in common. But opposites attract, and the two tie the knot after a string of ultra dramatic break-ups and make-ups. The two end up splitting, however, when a bug-in-the-glass-jar incident demonstrates their irreconcilable differences.

But just when they think they've been liberated from the past, repressed emotions -- and high kicks _ take full pendulum swing over nothing. Sang-min had split every single item in half, including his cherished clock after their divorce. On a mission to recover the missing pendulum from Jin-a, he inadvertently triggers his hot-tempered ex-wife, who gives him an ultimatum.

"Venus" is crafted in the style of "The War of the Roses" (1989) crossed with "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005) _ and a touch of "Kill Bill" (2003). A minor quarrel spins out of control, and you've got cars crashing and burning, wrestling in a pile of ostrich dung and police intervention.

The film made headlines as it cast an unlikely pair to play improbable roles: Kim eradicates her frail, angelic image to play as a woman with serious anger management issues, while Seol, known for playing tough anti-heros in films such as "Peppermint Candy" (2000), turns into a super-sensitive guy.

Seeing a spineless, obsessive-compulsive Seol is bound to create more cognitive dissonance in viewers than Kim's high kicks. But Seol's bona fide acting suggests he's born for the role. The film's greatest strengths lie in the delightful details, such as a scene where Sang-min is bathing his pet bug Wu-kyung or scraping off miniscule bits of dried toothpaste in the bathroom, or when he is about to run away from his ex-wife in a movie theater and happens to stand against the emergency exit instructions.

Unfortunately, such wit does not translate into the overall quality of the film. The film forcefully packs both heavy melodrama and surreal, comic elements that create a confounding audiovisual experience. It becomes too difficult to lightheartedly laugh at the funny parts, while the dramatic moments capturing the subtle emotional tension between a divorced couple are rather stilted.

The film also makes some pathetic attempts to squeeze out laughter by resorting to extremes, rather grotesquely. Seol's obsession with order and cleanliness is funny at first but becomes freaky _ you begin to think this guy needs some serious treatment, as does his friend, an agricultural studies professor who's infatuated with his cow. Jin-a, on the other hand, remains a rather undeveloped character that borders on hysterical, while her divorced friend, bloodthirsty for revenge against the all the ex-husbands in the world, defines hysteria.

The director deserves credit for not settling with something safe. But it's unfortunate that "Venus" feels more like a bits and pieces of a Romance (Movie)movie animation and hardboiled action film slapped together. It's fun when films experiment, but "Venus" throws the viewer into a state of cognitive dissonance that makes it hard to digest.

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