If I had to point to the single worst plot device in any kind of entertainment, I would point to destiny and fate. Fate is terrible, because it acts as an out for any storyteller who doesn’t feel like explaining the events that take place. It’s why the ending of Slumdog Millionaire ruined the film for me, because ascribing everything to fate means that nothing has the slightest bit of meaning. It happens because it has to happen. No one really has to do any work for it to get there, just follow the path that their lives are taking them on. “It is written” or whatever.
So there’s potential for a film called Finding Mr. Destiny to make me very angry, if it’s actually about destiny. Fortunately, even though one character puts her love life into the hands of fate, that’s not really what the film is about, nor is destiny part of the film’s the overall takeaway.
After being fired from his job as a travel agent for caring too much about his clients’ safety, Han Gi-Joon (Gong Yoo) starts up his own business, one that he claims won’t take advantage of other people. He partners up with his brother-in-law (although he doesn’t acknowledge their relationship in the presence of clients), and they set up the “Finding Your First True Love Company.” The purpose of the FYFTLC is not, as it might sound, to go out into the world and match a client up with their Mr. Right (or Mr. Destiny, as the case may be). Instead, they act as a detective agency which, given enough information about the client’s first true love, go out and find that person.
If you think about it at all, you realize that the premise is actually kind of terrifying. Stalkers and others with malicious intent could easily take advantage of the service, but in a way that that’s more specifically targeted than a regular detective agency. But for the purposes of this romantic comedy, nobody would ever take advantage of the kind thing that Gi-Joon believes he is doing both for his clients and their lost loves.
The focal client of the film is Seo Ji-Woo (Lim Soo-Jung), who went to India over a decade ago and lost contact with the wonderful Kim Jong-Wook. However, it’s actually Ji-Woo’s father who hired Gi-Joon, because he wants her to get over that Jong-wook fellow and marry somebody else. He wants her to see that Jong-wook is not all he’s cracked up to be and then be done with it. Interestingly enough, Ji-Woo doesn’t actually want to find him for much the same reason. The Korean title of the film literally translates to “Finding Kim Jong-Wook,” but that is certainly a less romantic name than Finding Mr. Destiny. To Ji-Woo, destiny is the deciding factor in her relationship with Jong-Wook. If she never sees him again, it’s because of destiny. But destiny has to happen to her, she can’t have somebody go out and find Kim Jong-Wook and bring him to her. But even so, she wants destiny to keep them apart. She never sees things through to completion, because the ending will never be as nice as she expects it to.
When Ji-Woo isn’t worrying about love, she is a stage director/producer of a musical called “The Last Show,” which we get to see bits and pieces of throughout the film. As someone who is a big fan of musicals, I always enjoyed the moments of onstage singing and dancing. A key moment involving a missing player is especially cool, though I liked it more because the film shows an entire song and dance number (fittingly titled “Destiny Midnight”) than because of the scene’s narrative significance. Apparently the film is based on a musical and was directed by the musical’s writer. I’m curious how much more singing there is in the musical, or if it’s a Once sort of thing where all of the music takes place in a realistic setting. If not, it’s a missed opportunity to have everybody singing all the time about everything. There aren’t enough good musical movies (nor can there ever be enough).
The inevitable pairing of Ji-Woo and Gi-Joon happens naturally, and I enjoyed watching them come together. The things that Gi-Joon does for her, all for the purpose of helping her find someone who would potentially dash his chances of having her for himself, are all very sweet, and I would have been very sad if things hadn’t worked out for them. There are a few moments with false endings, where it seemed like things wouldn’t go in that direction, but that was just me being silly. That being said, had it ended in the travel agency, that would have been very interesting. The movie’s not a drama, and the few dramatic moments do little to hurt the overall cheery tone of the film.
In that sense, Finding Mr. Destiny is a very conventional film, but that’s not really a bad thing. Part of that is definitely because it’s well-told and has characters that are worth rooting for, but it’s also because the film is not American. Korean romantic comedies, like all Korean movies, have a distinct identity, so even if the narrative beats may be similar across cultures, there’s no question that you are watching a Korean film. That makes the familiar seem interesting again, and for most Americans that will be enough to distinguish the film from the sea of other romantic comedies.
At the end, Finding Mr. Destiny pulls something of a Couples. This could possibly misconstrued as a fate sort of thing, but it’s really not. It’s just one of those amazing coincidences that sometimes happen. That Ji-Woo and Jong-Wook never saw each other again had nothing to do with destiny or fate, and anything that happens around that is just life being funny. Sometimes life is just weird like that. That’s what makes it so interesting.[Finding Mr. Destiny will be released on DVD July 17th, 2012. You can buy the disc from the RightStuf.com, Amazon, or a handful of other online retailers.]