Review: Petty Romance


[Korean Movie Night NY continues with Kim Jung-Hoon’s Petty Romance. If you live in New York City, you can see this film for free at the Tribeca Cinemas tonight (April 10th) at 7 PM. More information can be found here.]

I imagine it’s very difficult to think up catchy, marketable names. I suspect that becomes far more difficult when dealing with renaming a foreign film for an American (or generally international) audience. No matter how challenging it may be, though, whoever thought that a bland name like “Petty Romance” was a good idea should be fired.

“Petty Romance” the name in no way describes Petty Romance the film. “Petty Romance” sounds like a dumb, generic rom-com, but Petty Romance is a (relatively) clever, quite inventive rom-com. If I was just judging films by their titles, I wouldn’t think to watch something called “Petty Romance.” You shouldn’t make that mistake.

Petty Romance (Jjae Jjae Han Romaenseu)
Director: Kim Jung-Hoon
Rating: NR
Country: South Korea

I have always loved manga. My interest in it is far more passive than it once was, but I enjoy it nonetheless. To my knowledge, however, I’ve never read any manhwa, which is the Korean equivalent. I can’t be too sure though, because they don’t seem to be incredibly different. There are still girls with massive eyes and guys who may not actually be guys. In fact, a cursory glance of the Google image results for “manhwa” lead me to believe that those are the only types of characters. Or at least the only type that get English translations.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued at the idea of a romantic comedy about two characters (one a manhwa artist and the other a failed columnist) coming together to create an adult comic in order to win $100,000 dollars (1.3 million Korean won). Movies about making movies make sense because you can take advantage of that medium, but I can’t think of too many movies about making comics. Granted, there aren’t too many comics about making comics, but they do exist. Regardless, I hoped that Petty Romance would take advantage of its premise somehow. As you may have noticed from the header image, it totally does.

Petty Romance - Lee Sun-Kyun

Animation use in a live action film is something that I literally never think about. I’m not talking about CGI attempts at photo-realism or stopmotion. I’m talking about good old 2D images juxtaposed with real people. Like Blue’s Clues or something. It’s exceedingly rare, which is kind of a shame. But it’s probably for the best, because I can’t think of a lot of examples where it would really be beneficial to the film, and in others it would just be kind of irrelevant. But there are cases where it would be a crime not to include it. Petty Romance is one of those cases. Had there not been any animated scenes, I probably wouldn’t have thought that it could have used them, but I know that the film would have suffered for it.

Part of the reason that the animation in Petty Romance works so well is that it’s actually rather conservative. There are only four or five times in the film where it cuts over to the animation world, and each scene lasts maybe three minutes at the most. They come up rapidly (though never unjustifiably) and leave soon after. I was always sad to see them go, but I understand that they would have eventually overstayed their welcome.

Even better, each animated scene has a completely different style. One is very paneled, where the 2D characters don’t move but the camera swings in and out in 3D space to give the impression of motion (see the image below). Then there’s the more generic totally-looks-like-anime-but-is-Korean thing that can be seen in the header. There’s one or two others, but I think I’ve said enough. 


Given that the movie is about the creation of an adult comic specifically, it’s not surprising that these scenes are also rather adult-oriented. In the live action world, there is really nothing that would warrant anything more than a PG-13 rating (except maybe language). Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, I don’t think there’s any real nudity onscreen. Sex is obviously a major part of the story, but it’s really kind of tame and is there more to serve as a vehicle for more jokes than it is to be tittilating.

Within the animated world, though, that’s not so true, and there are a few moments where things take a turn for the pornographic. There’s no needless penetration or anything, but adult comics need to have drawn sex, so I guess a movie about adult comics needed to have it too. Being a fan of most things violent, though, I enjoyed it a lot more when the comic book heroine, Miso (yes, like the soup), went all Bayonetta on the bad guys, slicing and dicing and shooting people with guns in her boots. It’s an incredibly badass scene, and I wish that there had been more like it.

Petty Romance - Song Yoo-Ha

Even without the animation, Petty Romance is still a very funny romantic comedy. It’s got a lot of romcom typical scenes and interactions, such as the wet girl shivering outside of the guy’s door hoping to be invited in. But then it subverts them by showing her pouring a water bottle over her head to try again on someone else (no one ever seems to notice it isn’t raining). It’s a clever trick, and it’s used effecitevly throughout the film. 

Of special note is a scene near the end where one of the characters is trying to act out all of the tips she has been taught by the Korean equivalent of Cosmopolitan, which ends mostly in pain for the male. As someone who has looked through issues of Cosmo with friends for a laugh, it was nice to see a film that played with how horrifying and out of touch some of their ideas are. Just for that scene alone, Petty Romance is worth watching.

But there’s no reason to divorce any one moment from the rest of the film. Taken as a whole, it may be more than the sum of its parts. Putting all of these different styles together into one movie could have made something really disjointed, but it didn’t. It worked, and it worked beautifully. It makes so much sense to have animation in a movie about a comic book artist, but it seems like a lot of movies waste that opportunity. Petty Romance takes full advantage of it, and it makes something great.

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