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(Movie Review) 'Time Renegades' opens up new chapter in Korean 'melo-thriller' genre

All Headlines 08:31 April 07, 2016

By Chung Joo-won

SEOUL, April 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korean romantic melodrama, or rom-melo, film guru Kwak Jae-yong has broken away from his home turf genre with his latest work "Time Renegades," opening a new horizon for the country's melo-thriller film.

Romance is a much-needed spice in almost all genres of the South Korean small and big screens, from action and history to military blockbusters, but the spice has remained merely spice, one of the many side ingredients to keep audiences of all types engrossed and sympathetic.

But rom-melo is one of the two main dishes of "Time Renegades," along with a crime thriller. The 57-year-old South Korean director blends the classical poetry of an all-Korean rom-melo -- the unconditional communion between lovers, undisguised ecstasy in love, uncalculating sacrifice and separation, and miraculous discovery of never-ending passion -- with elements of the thriller.

As a rom-melo guru, Kwak's biggest strength comes from developing the natural course of romance -- he never begs his audience for sympathy or adds lugubriously cheesy lines to pull at the heart strings. Such killer tools have earned Kwak some box-office successes, including "The Classic (2003)" and "My Sassy Girl (2001)," the biggest hits since his debut as a film director in 1989 with the film "Watercolor Painting in a Rainy Day."

In "Time Renegades," too, Kwak has flaunted his trademark clean, organized style of melodrama. Had it not been for such a tight rein-in throughout the romantic plots, "Time Renegades" may have confused the audience from the beginning, from which the film throws in different times, spaces and perspectives that go on until the end of the film. The movie is not a time-slip movie. A time slip would have been simpler and require less elaboration to keep the plots in order.

Despite the fast-paced plot moves of a thriller, the film seldom loses the heat in both its rom-melo and thriller dishes, creating a "round" finish. Many of the much-expected blockbusters that attempted to mixed genres have failed to deliver the director's message, most notably with historical action flick "The Fatal Encounter (2014)," directed by Lee Jae-gyu and starring actor Hyun Bin. Kwak creates a beautiful convergence of melo-thriller in "Time Renegades" while keeping his unique color and that of his actors.

"Time Renegades" is Kwak's first thriller, costarring award-winning star actors Cho Jung-seok and Lee Jin-wook, and top actress Im Soo-jung.

The movie plot is not as simple as a traditional time-slip movie in which the protagonist travels to the past or future and finds his way back to present. Kwak himself has denied using the word "time-slip" to describe his work. "Time chasing," or "breaking away from time," are more precise descriptions of "Time Renegades," as he puts it.

The movie plot takes place in two concurrent times that are three decades apart, 1983 and 2015, connected through the virtual experience of two men. In 1983, Ji-hwan, a tenderhearted music teacher at a high school played by Cho, proposes to his colleague and love of his life, Yoon-jeong, played by Im. Yoon-jeong, a soft-voiced chemistry teacher, promises her love to Cho "forever," regardless of time and space. She is entertained by the strange, futuristic visions that Cho dreams every night after a stabbing accident, but never believes them. Cho's dreams show visions of Geon-woo, a homicide detective living in 2015, a man Cho has never seen or met. Geon-woo, too, dreams of 1985 and experiences Cho's shoes.

Both Ji-hwan and Geon-woo find their dreams mysterious but begin to enjoy them. Ji-hwan is awestruck with many marvels of the future world three decades away, such as smartphones. Likewise, Geon-woo is intrigued by the old news archives that are filed in the basement of his police office, which prove that his dreams of 30 years ago are backed by real events.

Geon-woo, a clueless young detective who has never had a romantic relationship in his life, falls in love with Eun-jeong, a woman who looks and acts exactly like Cho's fiance, whom he has seen in his dreams.

One night, Cho's dream turns ghastly, after he sees his fiance documented in the unresolved homicide records of Geon-woo's files in 1985. Frightened to know that his soon-to-be wife is to be brutally killed in the near future, Cho decides to catch the unknown killer with his own hands, so that his wife will stay alive in the present and future. Geon-woo also delves into the homicide case of Cho's fiance, whom he has already begun to sympathize with.

The movie director connects the past and the present with two points, the murder of the beloved and dreams. The murder and dreams again hearken back to a common factor, life.

In addition to dream and time, the all-Korean melo-thriller plays with the philosophical concept that even the latest developments of science have failed to conquer -- fate.

In the film, characters dash out in attempts to change "bad" fates to "good" ones, sometimes resulting in success and sometimes in failure. Some of the characters even try to kill themselves out of remorse or hope. But Kwak's message of life and fate points at the calm, pacifying circles of metempsychosis, or cycle of life. To Kwak, even the most sorrowful ends and regretful pasts seem to dissolve into a peaceful slumber, slipping away through wounded hearts. Such a philosophy works its way out in his earlier films, such as "The Classic."

"Time Renegades" is slated to launch in local cinemas on April 13.

jwc@yna.co.kr
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