Fantastic Fest is currently in full swing. The festival embraces all films and genres, with a heavy emphasis on cult. The festival is perhaps best known for its horror offerings, but each year the programmers sneak some lighter films in under the radar. Wonsuck Lee’s Killing Romance is one of this year’s more jovial selections.
Presented as a ‘fairy-tale’, the narrative of Killing Romance is recounted by a woman called Debbie from within her reading bus. Immediately, the film screams quirky, and that is just the start. The further Killing Romance unspools, the closer it becomes to being Korea’s answer to a Wes Anderson movie. From the highly stylised sets and costumes to the strange characters, Killing Romance has quirk and kook in spades, making it a delightfully entertaining feature for those that are smitten with Anderson and his brethren.
The story follows a highly successful actress, Hwang Yeo-rae (Lee Hanee) who finds herself trapped within a loveless marriage. Desperate to escape her gilded cage, she turns to her next door neighbour, Kim Beom-woo (Myoung Gong) – who also happens to be an uber fan – for help in killing her husband, Jonathan (Lee Sun-kyun). As with any good fairy-tale or fable, Killing Romance sets itself up well. Beginning with a whistle-stop tour through Yeo-rae’s exhausting acting and advertising career. The prologue also explains exactly how she ended up with Jonathan. Initially presenting himself as the perfect man, it is only after matrimony that Jonathan’s self-obsessed and fake nature is revealed. Her plight makes for an excellent jumping off point and Killing Romance gets wild.
Once Beom-woo has been recruited to her cause, the pair repeatedly try to vanquish Yeo-rae’s monster with hilarious results. As in any good comedy, their efforts are met with ever increasing ludicrous results, Jonathan being one slippery fish to catch. As Killing Romance progresses, every element is slowly dialled up until everything and everyone is an exaggerated parody. This works as part of Killing Romance’s charm and the cast’s commitment to the bit is to be commended. Their director asks a lot of them and they each throw themselves into the silliness 1000%.
In a bid to stand out and give the viewer something that they haven’t experienced often, Killing Romance throws comedy, murderous montages, and musical numbers into the mix. Rather than battle for autonomy, the warring notions, tones and genres become allies, creating a film full of wonder and whimsy.
Zany and almost cartoonish in nature, Killing Romance fulfils its mission to be a fairy-tale book come to life in spectacular and unforgettable ways.
Killing Romance was reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2023.