An unmarried farmer tries his luck at finding a bride in Uzbekistan, but ends up falling for his translator instead in this entertaining, funny, and surprisingly moving debut film from director Hwang Byung-Guk.
How far would you go to get married? For the Korean characters in Wedding Campaign, the answer is “halfway around the world,” although oddly enough, they’re still getting Korean brides! Hwang Byung-Guk makes a most impressive directorial debut with this charming story about two aging bachelors from the countryside looking for love in – of all places – Uzbekistan! Selected as the closing film of the 10th Pusan International Film Festival, Wedding Campaign stars Jung Jae-Young (Welcome to Dongmakgol) as Hong Man-Taek, an unmarried thirty-eight year-old farmer who still lives with his mother (Kim Ji-Yeong) and is often found palling around with his childhood friend, incorrigible cab driver Hee Chul (Yu Jun-Sang). When Man Taek’s grandfather (Kim Seong-Gyeom) learns that a neighbor has picked up a bride in Uzbekistan, he urges his wifeless grandson to take a chance and sign up with the matchmaking company organizing the trip.
Figuratively joined at the hip, Man-Taek and Hee-Chul agree to make the long journey to Uzbekistan together, finding that the country is home to a sizeable population of Uzbek-speaking, ethnic Koreans. For Hee-Chul, the trip initially proves to be a vacation of sorts as he finds himself romancing a potential bride during the day while attempting to bed some local Uzbek girls at night. Man-Taek, however, isn’t much of a ladies man, as his painfully awkward interactions with the ladies aren’t getting him any closer to matrimonial bliss. With Man-Taek’s marriage prospects looking pretty dim, it’s up to his translator, Kim Lara (Soo Ae) to give him a self-esteem makeover so he’ll land a wife. But as she begins to learn that Man-Taek isn’t just some local yokel, but a kind, decent man, she begins to have feelings for him. But are they just of sisterly affection or something more? And what secret is she hiding?
From beginning to end, Wedding Campaign is an involving cinematic experience, in a large part due to the fine performance from Jung Jae-Young. His dramatic turn as Man-Taek is a far cry from his gruff, more conventional leading man role he assayed quite well in Welcome to Dongmakgol, so much so that the transformation he makes here (supposedly based on Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump) is somewhat startling. Jung throws himself completely into the role. His Man-Taek is often nervous, sweats up a storm, and is a bit flabby to boot – far from leading man material. Yet Jung is still able to convey an inner decency and honor about his character without compromising his performance as a socially inept country bumpkin. Jung’s leading lady also proves up to the challenge, as Soo Ae peforms well as the conflicted Kim Lara – at times, her style seems reminiscent of Sammi Cheng and Miriam Yeung during their respective rom-com heydays. Whatever the case, the woman has a beautiful smile that lights up the screen, a small part of what makes Soo Ae an actress to watch out for. Rounding out the cast is Yu Ju-Sang, whose take on Hee Chul – a fun-loving character whose love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude catches up with him – is a joy to watch. His progression from wannabe lothario to contrite, lovelorn romantic is both believable and affecting in its own way.
If there’s one complaint to lodge against Wedding Campaign, it’s in the film’s ending. At the risk of mildly spoiling the ending, let me just say that while it does give viewers a satisfying conclusion in terms of the mechanics of the plot, it denies them any palpable emotional payoff, leaving these matters to be handled off-screen, just beyond the frame. It’s a disappointment considering how likeable these characters are and how engaging their individual stories have been. To root for them the entire movie only to be denied any sort of significant closure may be a less clichÃ©d choice on the part of the filmmakers, but I wouldn’t say it was exactly a welcome one. On the bright side, I can report that unlike numerous Korean melodramas and comedies, nobody got cancer or died. And considering the onslaught of terminal illness tearjerkers in Korean cinema these days, a happy ending is always a plus. Whatever my quibbles, I found Wedding Campaign to be a charming, consistently humorous, and engaging showcase for its talented cast and debut director. (Sanjuro 2006) Lovehkfilm.
Directed: Byeong-guk Hwang
AKA:.Naui gyeolhon wonjeonggi
Runtime: 120 minutes
Country: South Korea
LanguageKorean Language Version
SubtitlesEnglish Subtitles(.srt .idx .sub)