Japan isn’t the only country in South-East Asia to have a large comic book and animation industry, South Korea does too. It’s that background what informs the meet cute of Kim Jung-Hoon’s romantic comedy, Petty Romance. Struggling manhwa (Korean comic) artist Jeong Bae (Lee Sun-Kyun) finds out about a global competition to write the best adult comic, with a preference towards sex. He is a brilliant artist, if a less accomplished writer, he needs a writer to get anywhere in the industry or this competition. It’s here where he meets Da-Rim (Choi Gang-Hee), who vastly over exaggerates her credentials.
There are a few subplots in the mix, too, with Da-Rim’s social incompetence and her relations with her best friend & brother and one of Jeong Bae’s friends leaving Dictaphone’s around his flat in hope of getting inspiration for his story; the latter of which doesn’t go anywhere. As far as the general ebb and flow of petty romance is concerned, it’s an accessible romantic comedy with a dirty sense of humour.
That which marks the film out as interesting is the combination of live action and anime sequences. When Da-Rim and Jeong Bae are riffing through the writing process, coming up with their idea (of a female assassin who keeps her prey alive for her sexual desires) the animation used is a series of flashily edited stills.
The much more interesting sequence and the highlight of the film is a scene where the two leads are inevitably falling for each other and Bae starts to draw himself into the comic book as a character that beats the male lead in the hyper stylised violent anime style. [Animated] Frame by Frame, the scene starts as a series of scribbles and lines and shot by shot, more layers are introduced whether its colour or background detail. To make it all the more impressive it’s put on-screen together with the live action footage.
No matter how many times the two forms are put on-screen together with any level of accomplishment it always succeeds in impressing. It’s sad then that this ideal of anime coming together with live action is used as nothing more than a hook to hang the romance on, it’s an impressive hook but one that doesn’t cut particularly deep.
As a romantic comedy, there is a level of inevitability about how things will unfold whether a film comes from South Korea, Japan or the Hollywood system the same sense of predictability reigns. The same goes for the sense of humour, it has its moments but as the very word suggests they are fleeting and all too rare. Instead much of the film lives and dies on the characters. Jeong Bae as played by Sun Kyun does most of the heavy lifting and most of the falling, his development is conflicted however. He spends just as much of his time berating Da-Rim and belittling her lies as he does with the well-travelled rom-com tropes. It’s that conflict that carries the film, His opposite played by Gang-Hee is much more divisive, playing the fool for much of the film, again that unusual dynamic is what makes the film work.
Petty Romance may be crowd pleasing and highly successful in its native country, but the thing that will make it endure outside is the relationship. While it may be a hard relationship to get behind, and Da-Rim often comes across as aggravating, Petty Romance does carries itself well. Maybe the ending is weak, and maybe there are inherent flaws in the familiarity and lack of coherency, but for a film not to be the typical beautiful girl meets beautiful boy twinned with these animated flourishes. Jung-Hoon gives the viewer enough to enjoy.
DVD screener kindly provided by the people at Terracotta Distribution.