Crush and Blush review: Lee Kyoung Mi’s debut film offers up a bizarre parody on romantic comedies.
Crush and Blush review, Luke Ryan Baldock at the London Korean Film Festival.
Lee Kyoung Mi’s debut feature from 2008 is unique and bizarre while still being a funny and relatable tale of female rivalry in the world of love, and obsessive behaviour being self destructive. This debut feature is interesting in that it’s one directed by a female, while painting the gender in a less than flattering light, at least where our main character’s concerned. However, that may all be down to the world which men have created, making women feel forced into certain roles and to pursue goals such as romance. Co-written and produced by Park Chan Wook and featuring a cameo by fellow director Bong Joon Ho, it’s clear that Lee received the support of some of the top male filmmakers in Korea, something our protagonist does not receive.
Me Sook (Kong Hyo Jin), is a middle school English teacher, forced into the role when there was no longer need for two Russian teachers at the high school. She has a tendency to go red in the face, and obsesses over Mr Seo (Lee Jong Hyuk), whom she claims to have had a romantic encounter with in the past. Upon hearing about Seo’s infidelity with her friend and nemesis Yu Ri (Hwang Woo Seul Hye) – the teacher who remained teaching Russian – Me Sook decides to team up with Seo’s daughter Jong Hee (Seo Woo), a student as unpopular as Me Sook is as a teacher. Although Me Sook wishes to ruin the romance between Seo and Yu Ri, Jong Hee believes Me Sook’s intentions are pure, and that she just wants to help keep Seo and his wife Eun Kyo (Pang Eun Jin) together.
Me Sook should be a hard character to like. She is manipulative, deluded, unprofessional, and constantly blames others for her failures, so it is with great credit to Kong that she makes Me Sook completely relatable and sympathetic as well as pathetic. Although seemingly cruel, her actions and reactions are also very humorous, with her inability to process the world outside herself as endearing instead of terrifying. On top of this, all other characters feed into Me Sook and her dastardly deeds. Seo is delightfully ambivalent towards what is going on, especially when Jong Hee and Me Sook concoct kinky messages originally intended to scare away Yu Ri, but have the opposite effect.
Lee Kyoung Mi’s shooting style is more experimental and less polished than that of her second feature The Truth Beneath. Some scenes seem awkwardly shot as a whole, but within them contain irregular shots that pay-off. This risk-taking is what would hope to see in a debut, and it also adds to Me Sook’s deluded look at the world. The humour is also fairly dark, while also being enjoyable, mainly aided by the surprise blossoming friendship between Me Sook and Jong Hee.
Not dark enough to be a thriller, loving enough to be a romance, pofaced enough to be a drama, nor hilarious enough to be a comedy, Crush and Blush is a rare oddity that defies genre. Instead it creates a world for its characters, and is ironically more true to life that way. Me Sook sees things one way, while the other characters another, and as the audience we are privileged enough to take in all sides and enjoy it for what it is. 8 years down the line Crush and Blush holds up as a rare look at a woman’s deluded love from the perspective of a woman, while also playing as a parody of so many romantic comedies written and directed by men. Richard Curtis, we’re looking at you.
Crush and Blush review by Luke Ryan Baldock.
Crush and Blush played as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2016.