Directed by: Jeon Ga-young
Distributed by: TBA
Written by Patrick Hao
Jeon Ga-young has been positioning herself as the next generation’s Hong Sang-soo with a trintet of meta films starring herself as a filmmaker seeking romance. So it is particularly interesting to see her break into a more conventional Hollywood-esque romantic comedy in “Nothing Serious,” which from the outset looks like it can easily belong to the early 2000s American rom-com canon of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” or “40 Days and 40 Nights.” But it becomes clear as “Nothing Serious” goes on that Jeon is interested in using the conventional genre to touch on some distinctly societal issues.
“Nothing Serious’” completely orthodox setup follows two young city dwellers in a crisis. Ja-young (Jeon Jong-seo) is 29 and loves drinking and sex, but has found the latter to be harder after breaking up with her long-time boyfriend three years ago. When she finds out that her ex is going to get married, this motivates her to join a dating app, where she matches up with Woo-ri (Son Seok-koo). Unbeknownst to her, Woo-ri is a magazine writer who has been assigned to write a 10-part column on the modern dating scene, which inevitably becomes a smash hit as their relationship becomes more serious.
One can easily imagine this setup with Jennifer Lopez and pre-Hulk Mark Ruffalo. But, Ga-young’s film is able to humanize the two characters. Ja-young’s loneliness is central to her character, overcompensating such feelings with sex. There is a deep sense of burden within Ja-young’s character of being forced into a situation where she has to find a relationship. The disdain she feels for the world of apps. This pathos is made even more abundantly clear with Jeon Jong-seo’s performance, an actress who is most known to the western world for her starring role in Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning.”
But, any great rom-com has to have a lovable romance at the center of it. And the easy chemistry between Jong-seo and Seok-koo radiates off the screen. Their courtship revolves around drinking soju with nightcaps in motel rooms. And they are allowed to just talk to each other about their anxieties about their careers and relationships, letting their natural charm come to the forefront. It is a clear portrait of adults in their late-20s.
The easy naturalistic flow of the dialogue gives dimension to these characters and the film, even if it begins to hit on the rom-com cliches it is bound by. Even the style of the film matches that of a conventional rom-com. The world is overlit with jaunty film music. But, the contrast in the feeling of the genre and what the central couple feel enhances the juxtaposition of the artificiality of romantic expectations and real connection. Jeon is completely in tune with genre, style, and content.
“Nothing Serious” is the type of international pop feature that has more meat than meets the eye. In using the rom-com genre, director Jeon is able to depict the frustrations of disconnected youths. In a way, “Nothing Serious” presents a populist version of “Burning”. If anything, this film might be the calling card that Jeon Ga-young needs to become an increasingly major name in the international film scene.
“Nothing Serious” Trailer
“Nothing Serious” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival.
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