The second annual 20th anniversary New York Asian Film Festival took place from July 15 to July 31. For more information on what you missed, click here
I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over my deeply ingrained antipathy towards romantic comedies, and I’m okay with that.
Once upon a time, I used to decry the artificial, formulaic nature of them. But of course it’s one of those arguments that doesn’t necessarily seem fair, considering my beloved action movies.
So when you get right down to it, the truth is that I just plain like those cliches better.
But perhaps more to the point, the issue is that love and romance are common, everyday experiences; we may never get to rescue hostages from a bomb laced skyscraper, but the odds are very good that at some point we will fall hard for somebody who couldn’t be less interested in us, or have to learn to how to date again after a long-term relationship hits the skids.
With the knowledge of how it all works, and more importantly how it all feels, we know these things firsthand. We know how they work. And we know when we’re being lied to, when we’re being manipulated.
Some enjoy the fantasy, and some can’t get past the strings.
So to that end, how do you draw in a viewer who is preternaturally resistant to the sort of manipulation.
I guess…. you make it horny?
As brought to the screen by writer-director Jeong ka-Young, Nothing Serious is nothing if not horny. And I like to think that’s the sort of creative choice that deep down, we can all appreciate.
The film takes place from over the course of a year, tracing the romantic travails of Ja-Young (Jeon Jong-seo, earthily iridescent), a hard drinking 29-year old podcaster with enormous debt and a truly sweet body pillow, and Woori (Seok-Koo Son, also good), an aspiring writer working for an online magazine. The acrimonious end of yet another short-term relationship has done nothing to quell Ja-Young’s increasingly firm belief love is a waste of time, and Woori finds himself hung up on a co-worker that only seems to like him as comfort food whenever she falls out with her on-again, off-again boyfriend.
Having signed up for the dating app LOVE BRIDGE in a drunken fit of pique, Ja Young finally gives in to the incessant notifications and actually tries using it the way nature intended… to hook up with hot strangers. Wonder of wonders, she matches with Woori, who is on there for… other reasons, and they meet on New Years Day.
One thing leads to another, and they decide that they get along well enough to meet up again, and again, and again, as it turns out they share a preference to keep things shallow, relationship-wise… Nothing Serious, just as the title indicates.
And obvious that goes exactly as planned, with no complications whatsoever, the end, fade to credits.
At heart, Nothing Serious cribs from the RomCom playbook just as much as any other Reese Witherspoon or Sarah Jessica Parker vehicles (are these timely references? I keep telling you, this is not my genre), and the general arc is not something that comes with a lot of surprises storywise, as such. But the raunchier approach, and the chemistry between the leads work hard to make this feel like not quite business as usual.
There’s probably no better example of what I’m talking about than how they treat the courtship itself; one of the biggest cliches in not just romantic comedy, but all of cinema, is the montage, two people falling in love as represented by long walks in the park, laughing over dinner, holding hands while ice skating…
(Why is it always ice skating…?)
Bereft of the time to develop a relationship through more thorough means, we have come to accept this shorthand; the signifiers of connection.
Nothing Serious is not immune to this perhaps necessary evil, but it’s instructive in the ways in which they approach the problem: They have them talk.
There is still the telescoping of time, but instead of wordless montages, it’s two people having conversations. And, notably, these conversations don’t feel written. They feel natural, lived in (to the extent possible, at any rate)
They feel like conversations two actual people on an actual date might have, especially after getting drunk.
There’s one moment in particular I keep coming back to, a throwaway shot where Ja Young has covered a nearly blacked out Woori’s head in Soju bottlecaps, that is the sort of stupid little moment in a nascent relationship that you’ll always think back on whenever you think of that person.
It’s that very offhanded casualness that these types of movies never seem to get right, and I’ve never quite understood why.
Mind you, these tiny moments I’m so big on are intercut with a series of VERY athletic sex scenes. Which, again, reads as more realistic to me. Most romantic comedy are at pains to erase the lustful aspects of their love stories, and the ones that aren’t tend to be almost smug about it, like they’re actually doing something.
Nothing Serious comes at it organically, and is all the better for it.
But… again, this is a romantic comedy. And the conflict at it’s core, based on a lie as they always are, is the exact type of bullshit that puts me off this stuff in the first place. And there’s a runner about Ja Young being a “supporting side character” in life that’s the kind of cutesy meta writerly junk that’s not as clever as it thinks it is. But again credit where credit is due; I liked Son and Jong-seo together well enough (and the movie provided enough laughs otherwise) that I was able to get past these things… mostly.
Look, I think I’ve made it clear that I’m no expert on romantic comedies, so take this qualified rave with a grain of salt if you’re on either end of that spectrum. But I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like.
I don’t like romantic comedies.
But I liked this.