Korea gets its front-runner for the most cynical melodrama of the year with Love Me Not, a beautifully made but emotionally hollow film about a con artist who kind of grows a heart. After a star performance as one of the two sisters in A Tale of Two Sisters, talented young actress Moon Geun Young takes on her most mature role yet as Min, a blind rich girl who is forced to be the head of her family after the death of her father. Cue Julian, a recently released con artist who makes his fortune by swindling rich women. For a melodrama to work, likable characters must be crafted for the emotions to resonate. But Love Me Not is a very cynical film - its characters are mean and rarely likable, and the hopes for some kind of happy ending are crushed by its third-act twist. Even at the 30-minute mark, the audience still struggles to find a character to connect with since Julian is an obvious choice as the one to hate, and Min is really just an old miser in the body of a cute 19-year-old Korean girl. This also means that unlike most con artist films, there's no fun at all in the con - Julian deserves to be hated, and he's not really all that clever despite being admired by all of Seoul's shadiest. Perhaps the filmmakers should be given credit for not glorifying the ugly world of cons, but they still attempt to make their protagonists sympathetic characters. But when protagonists finally decide to play nice and be friendly to each other, it's hard to forget that Min is a bit of an idiot for falling for it. Julian is still just a con artist with a newly acquired conscience who originally intended to kill a blind girl, and everyone else is a villain to different degrees.
However, writer/director Lee Cheol-Ha probably knows this, and he thankfully tones down the usual melodrama for a subdued climax. Expecting a big climax where Julian's scam is revealed, and Min breaks down to the tune of a dramatic score fueled by lots of violins? Not happening. While the first act drags slightly, Lee keeps the twists coming by keeping the film going at a decent pace without stopping for those big emotional moments. Much of the emotions are muted all the way to the end, though it only leads to an ending that's too abstract for its own good. Don't expect Lee to be making an anti-melodrama here, though; Love Me Not is still packed with those clichés that everyone loves. It's just not as painful this time around. Enormous praise, meanwhile, needs to go to the cinematography by Gang Chang Bae. The film is consistently gray (a most appropriate palate given the film's mood), but Lee and Gang frame the shots wonderfully to show their stars at their most beautiful. The use of focus is also reminiscent of Asian television ads with its slick visuals and amazing clarity. It's a far-fetched call, but Love Me Not may be the most beautifully shot Korean film I've seen from 2006.
Love Me Not may be really pretty to look at, but there's not much beneath its surface. What about the amazing maturity that Moon Geun Young is supposed to show? Moon does seem to have come a long way since the "not crazy" sister role from A Tale of Two Sisters, but showing maturity doesn't mean acting like a spoiled brat. Perhaps it is again at the fault of the script, but when even a blind orphaned girl can't garner much sympathy by the second act, toning down the mean streak would be a good option. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Kim Joo Hyuk fares slightly better in his performance as pseudo-villain Julian, but he's visibly a few years too old to be Moon Geun Young's older brother. Or perhaps I just found another plot hole. As far as melodrama goes, Love Me Not should be applauded for not following a strict formula of clichés, even though it doesn't stray too far from it. On the other hand, Love Me Not is not much of a con movie because it lacks the fun and cleverness in the central con. As an unintentional comedy, Love Me Not has quite a few of those strange moments where characters pop up as if they inherited some kind of Star Trek beaming technology. Thankfully, both the stars and the visuals are pretty to look at, the cynics will love that the emotions are subdued, and I was just glad that the whole thing didn't collapse in the third act. For an idols-filled film, Love Me Not is a solid, but imperfect choice.
by Kevin Ma
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