Fantasia 2023 Review: KILLING ROMANCE, An Exuberant Slapstick Genre-Bender With A Lot On Its Mind
Killing Romance is an ebullient explosion of poppy music and poppier visuals that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser from Lee Won-suk, director of popular indie charmer How to Use Guys with Secret Tips. Already a massive hit in its native South Korea, Killing Romance celebrated its Canadian premiere at Fantasia this week, bringing one of the festival’s most exciting films to one of the world’s most excitable audiences. Starring Lee Hanee and Gong Myoung as failed actress Hwan Yeo-rae and her biggest fan Kim Bum-woo, Killing Romance tells a remarkably simple story with great panache and style to spare.
Yeo-rae is a former actress who gained popularity through an unusual stunt involving copious amounts of soda. Mocked for her lackluster acting skills she jets off to the remote island of Qualla where she meets in obscenely wealthy Jonathan Na (Parasite’s Lee Sun-kyun). The two immediately hit it off and get hitched, living a life of leisure in Qualla before returning to Korea seven years later to resume Johnathan’s business interests. Once in her new home, Yeo-rae realizes that Businessman Jonathan is a far less likable character than Qualla Jonathan, and she begins to look for a way out.
Enter Bum-woo, their next-door neighbor. He’s a college student and a card-carrying member of the Yeo-rae fan club. Upon meeting, the two immediately get along and begin to hatch a scheme to free Yeo-rae from her very restrictive and occasionally violent marriage. They are going to have to kill Jonathan. It’s not the most original logline, but the magic happens with Lee Won-suk’s treatment of the story, which plays a lot more like classical slapstick than brutal revenge drama.
Filled to the brim with big sets, bright colors, buoyant music, and huge performances, Killing Romance is just a delight. The film channels the energy of filmmakers like Jeunet et Caro, the whimsical approach of Korean cult film Dasepo Girls, and mixes it with the colorful tragedies of early Nakashima Tetsuya to create one of the most hilarious murder plots in recent years. A Shakespearean comedy of errors involving deadly saunas, violently hurled tangerines, and far more ostriches than I was expecting.
Lee Hanee and Gong Myoung do great work as the two leads here, embodying their ridiculous characters and breathing life into these bizarre caricatures. However, it is Lee Sun-kyun who runs away with the film as the misogynistic charisma demon that is Jonathan Na. The paragon of an evil movie billionaire, there’s never a dull moment when Jonathan is on screen. Whether it’s his frequent outbursts in garbled English platitudes, his comically maniacal moustache twirling, or simply the abject bigness of his performance, it’s truly a sight to behold. In a film full of crazy visuals and vivacious pop tunes, Jonathan Na is the film’s most special effect.
In and among the various and nonstop gags, Killing Romance still manages to touch on serious issues like the above-mentioned misogyny and domestic violence against Yeo-rae, but it does it in a clever enough way that the point comes through without ever seeming preachy. Punctuated with musical interjections and flights of fantasy, Killing Romance is the movie that has it all: drama, comedy, music, romance, thrills, and chills. It’s an absolute delight of a film that proves the old adage that it isn’t about the destination, it’s always the journey that matters. Even though we know where this film is going, we never have a clue about how it’ll get there, and it is one hell of a trip!
- Wonsuk Lee
- Lee Hanee
- Lee Sun-kyun
- Yoo-ram Bae