For the third year on the trot, and after already receiving two prizes, director Ko Bong-soo returns to the Jeonju International Film Festival with his third work, Hello Dayoung. Largely working with the same troupe of actors, who are taking turns in the lead roles of his films, Ko's latest maintains the comic bent and sweetness of his prior works but this loving homage to silent comedy ditches his unique colloquial dialogue. Shot in black and white and sped up to achieve the accelerated frame rate of the silent era, this 62-minute romantic comedy is all heart but doesn't always work as a feature.
Lonely deliveryman Min-jae drives around on his scooter, occasionally getting lost or accidentally damaging his packages, but the highlights of his day are when he gets to deliver things to Da-young, the young office worker he adores. He keeps his visor down when he visits her office and always leaves her with a mandarin. But life is hard for Da-young, who is dead last in her company hierarchy and struggles in the shadow of a pretty colleague who is fawned over in the office, and happens to be the boss' daughter.
Reminiscent of the delightful Chaplin-inspired film within a film that appears near the end of fellow Korean indie Merry Christmas Mr. Mo, Hello Dayoung gets off to a wonderful start, as the hapless Min-jae stumbles around town and inspires the exaggerated ire of drivers and clients. The early momentum carries over to the office setting, when the office totem pole is introduced as company workers shove work down the ladder, each actor armed with their own set of hilarious over-the-top facial ticks.
The novelty begins to fade once the narrative settles into its backdrop of a typical Korean work environment. Min-jae soon quits his job and gets hired at the office, from which point the vast majority of the film takes place in the same room and largely cycles through the same gags and facial expressions.
On the romantic side of things, Ko's story is certainly recognizable in its Chaplin affection, but by today's standard there's something very creepy about seeing this young man hover around a vulnerable young woman, often moving her around or observing her in her sleep. His intentions are, of course, quite innocent, but the behavior is that of a stalker, and is likely to make some viewers uncomfortable.
Hello Dayoung is a lovingly rendered and often hilarious pastiche but it's hit-and-miss as a feature, lacking the depth of Ko's previous films Delta Boys and Loser's Adventure. Still, the Silent Era-style is on-point, though one wishes the courting techniques had been updated by about a century, and the film has plenty of strong moments, even if the gimmick eventually wears thin.