BiFan 2019 Review: ALL ABOUT MY RIVAL IN LOVE, Style and Kooky Lead Jazz Up Familiar Story
Five years after bursting onto to the scene with his kinetic debut Alice in Earnestland, a feature graduation project from the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) which earned the top Korean film prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2014, Ahn Gooc-jin returns with another off-kilter work featuring a kooky female lead at its center. All About My Rival in Love was one of ten feature projects commissioned by the Korean cable network tVN and originally debuted on screen late last year.
Kim Seul-gi plays Dong-joo, a curious young woman who begins to go off the rails when the object of her affection meets a new woman and plans to get married. Unsure of what to do as she quickly unravels, she approached the new woman and in her former beau's life, and, unbeknownst to him, slowly befriends her.
All About My Rival in Love begins with the same stylistic force that was evident in Ahn's debut in a scene that introduces us to the mania of its central character and the seedlings of the story. Against an opulent setting, the sequence blends twee fantasy and macabre horror, giving us a taste of the protagonist's insecurities and thought process.
Following in the wake of Ahn's last lead Lee Jung-hyun, Kim Seul-gi has formidable shoes to fill as Dong-joo. She may not quite be a match for Lee's range and forceful presence but there's no doubt that Kim threw her all into a committed performance that shift between colourful excess and empathetic vulnerability from scene to scene, which makes her an compelling core at the heart of the film.
While Ahn crafts a number of impressive scenes throughout his latest work, with various images and cutaways swiftly edited together to match the nerviness of the main character, not to mention the horror-fantasy elements that seep in from time to time (possibly owing to Dong-joo's access to drugs as pharmacist), overall, the narrative lacks a strong flow. Admittedly, this was also one of the few weaknesses of his previous film, yet this time around the issue seems somewhat more pronounced, perhaps owing to the TV medium, which may have required certain cuts for the sake of running time. Beyond that, the common story, though vibrantly realised, lacks the unpredictability that made his debut such as fresh piece of work.
While Ahn shows that he's no one-trick pony with his stylish second film, the lively and breezy All About My Rival in Love may have been weak served by a more ambitious story. Hopefully, Ahn will take his evident talents and reach a little further for his next spin on the director's chair.