Director: Lee Won-Suk
Starring: Lee Hanee, Lee Sun-Kyun, Gong Myung
Returning after nine years away from the big screen, Lee Won-Suk brings with him his new feature Killing Romance - a comedy-thriller that takes aim at toxic masculinity, consumerism, and domestic violence complete with K-pop, an explosion of colour, and plenty of excesses. It’s certainly a trip that will ultimately reward you if you’re willing to stay on board the further into its own chaos it descends into, despite the flaws along the way.
"Whilst the performances and tone are generally fairly self-aware and comic, the underlying message is strong and Won-Suk doesn’t lose sight of this in amongst the mayhem."
Hwang Yeo-Rae (Hanee) has been an idol in the public idea for years, flogging anything and everything to her adoring fanbase whilst starring in a slew of huge movies - despite her lack of ability as an actress. When she is roundly ridiculed for her role in what is called ‘the biggest film ever made’, she retreats to the island of Qualla where she meets handsome and charming Johnathan Na (Sun-Kyun), a billionaire environmentalist and animal rights activist. He seems better than perfect and the pair marry, but, flash forward seven years later and everything has fallen apart for Yeo-Rae. Turns out Johnathan is a violent, controlling, and abusive man who bullies all around him to bend to his will, but when Yeo-Rae happens across her neighbour Kim Bum-Woo (Myung) - a struggling student and superfan of her work - the two decide there is only one way to rescue Yeo-Rae….Johnathan must die. What follows is an escalating collection of far-fetched and outrageous ideas to bring an end to Johnathan’s tyranny, from death by paper place, saunas, and peanut allergies, nothing is seemingly off the table here.
Killing Romance boasts three very strong performances, especially Parasite star Lee Sun-Kyun’s turn as the cartoonishly despicable Johnathan. But whilst the performances and tone are generally fairly self-aware and comic, the underlying message is strong and Won-Suk doesn’t lose sight of this in amongst the mayhem - it’s never fun or humorous seeing Yeo-Rae being tormented by Johnathan, as well it shouldn’t be. The film is enjoyable for the most part though, but it ends up being too long for its own good and the central conceit feels dragged out by its conclusion - the early barrage of murderous plans felt exciting but eventually the ideas and execution ran out of steam heading into the muddled finale. However, prior to that, Killing Romance has some great gags and sequences that are both hilarious and visually appealing - there’s a real Wes Anderson vibe to a lot of the production design throughout and the colours and framing combine to create an attractive experience.
The absurdity of it all is captured further by the great editing on display throughout. There’s a real energy to the transitions and cuts that keep Killing Romance ticking over nicely despite its stretched narrative. The interweaving of musical numbers is handled well, allowing for further WTF moments but none that derailed the flow of the story too much.
Killing Romance was a film I was anticipating prior to the start of Fantasia International Film Festival 2023, and, whilst it may not have been a perfect success, it's still a lot of fun. Lee Won-Suk’s ability to merge heavy themes with chaotic energy and effervescence without losing sight of his vision pays off handsomely here, despite eventually running out of steam by the final third.
August 5th 2023