Film & DVD Review
Tae-il is a super problem child of Kang High. He has an incredible IQ of 148, but he's only interested in marrying his first love Il-mae. Yound-dal, Il-mae's father openly declares that he would allow Tae-il to marry his daughter if he could be admitted to the Law School of Seoul National University and pass the Judicial Examination. From then on, Tae-il's ultimate missions are to study and protect Il-mae from all other sleazeballs who approach her!
I saw a trailer for Crazy First Love on some DVD reasonably recently, and had heard good things about it on online forums. The trailer made the film look like another quirky romantic comedy type film, a genre that South Korea is remarkably good at, and it starred the guy from possibly the best romantic comedy ever made, My Sassy Girl. With those things in mind, when I sat down to watch the film, I admit I was expecting a film along similarish lines to My Sassy Girl, and that was where I got my biggest surprise, it is nothing like what I expected.
Despite the trailer making the film look like a pretty funny rom-com, the humour side of things are very much a second note to everything else. Crazy First Love is most definitely a romantic drama type film, with some funny moments, but the overall humorous tones are drowned out by vast quantities of melodrama and sentimentality.
Crazy First Love follows a rather typical plot for this type of film, and that simply is boy wants girl, and will do whatever it takes to get her. In fact, so that I don't get bogged down in the finer details which you can find out for yourself if you watch the film, that is as good a plot account as you really need. All that I should possibly mention is that it is not just the fact that the boy wants the girl, but more that he is totally and utterly, in every way possible, absolutely obsessed with the girl, and it is her over-protective father that he is out to please in order for the father to even let him get near the girl.
The situations that arise in Crazy First Love generally had a lot of potential for setting up humorous events. Some of these are realised, and there are some very funny moments, maybe not side splitting but still worth a good giggle. One in particular I found to be very funny, but mostly because of the surprise I felt at what happened! The scene I'm referring to is where Il-Mae is trying to make Tae-Il kiss her, but he won't as he promised her father that he wouldn't and doesn't want to break his promise. From a simple, "Stop it" and "No" towards her, things get rougher and he has to physically restrain her, until finally the only way he can stop her is *spoilers, highlight to read* to stab her in the leg with a pen!!! I would have thought that was a sure fire way to make her never want to speak to you again... but not in this film!! *End spoilers*. But for every scene that makes use of its humour potential, there are plenty more which don't. Instead those scenes choose to focus on the drama and sentimentality of the story. While I have no problems at all with the film-makers' choosing to have scenes that aren't humorous, they really went overboard in Crazy First Love, overboard without many ideas for originality.
As there are so many scenes that choose to focus on the more emotional side of things, the feeling of déjà vu is quite frequent as a lot of the scenes are pretty much the same. Tae-Il and Il-Mae's father spend the vast majority of the film crying for one reason or another, so when something emotional takes place or is discovered I found that I didn't really care that much cause they'd been crying for most of the film anyway. What may have helped the film a little would have been if either of the actors could have acted crying convincingly, but they couldn't. Their tears very much came across as being the forced, fake crying type, with no emotion behind them at all, and by the end of the film they just became quite annoying, with me thinking "Jesus man, stop crying already!!"
While the repetition in style of the scenes did knock the film down a notch or two, there were plus points to the film. While the actual story is very typical in rom-coms, it was handled reasonably well in outline in Crazy First Love. A couple of, albeit rather predictable, twists were thrown into the mix here and there, and the tale of one person's complete devotion to someone else was quite touching. Aesthetically, Crazy First Love looked very good. The cinematography helped the scenes have a little more impact than they possibly would have, and for me the look of the film was its best quality.
I'm not sure whether this next comment is me just showing my stupidity or what, but at times I did find following the timeline to be rather difficult. I got the impression that there were several flashbacks and the like throughout the film, but at times I found myself not completely sure as to whether a scene was in the past or in the present. Maybe I am being stupid, but sometimes the narrative did get a little jumpy, throwing into the open this possibility of getting lost in the film's timeline.
A little problem I had with the film was the realism of the characters. Tae-Il is completely obsessed with Il-Mae, and wants her and nothing but her in life. Maybe it is just me, but if this was the case why then would he have been such a 'punk' at the beginning of the film, causing trouble and trying to join one of the local underworld gangs? Surely that is not going to make a great impression on the girl you are after? The way he is after striking a deal with Il-Mae's father I found to be far more believable, as he clearly shows his devotion and dedication. Il-Mae's father on the other hand is the opposite. From being completely believable he changes to be anything but, in my opinion. He starts strict, over-protective and a man who demands respect and discipline from his students. As the film progresses he just gets weaker and weaker, until one scene where he is literally at Tae-Il's feet grovelling and waiting for his every whim. I simply didn't find that real at all. Il-Mae was quite the same. From being someone who is not interested in Tae-Il's rants about loving her, she suddenly becomes desperate to get him, conveniently at the time when Tae-Il had promised her father that he wouldn't touch her... maybe it is the forbidden fruit scenario.
Acting wise, I wasn't overly impressed by anyone. Son Ye-Jin probably gives the best performance out of everyone, as she can act crying better than anyone else in the film, and given how much crying there is in the film being able to act it is quite important. Aside from the crying thing, none of the three leads really offer anything special in their performance. Worse still are the background actors. They are required to cry lots too, and bloody hell most of them can't.
A final few comments before I conclude, one of which has to be regarding the arena event at the end. Who knows that many people?! I don't think that even with my immediate friends, if we all invited everyone we knew to an event that we would be able to fill an entire arena, but it would appear that in Korea they can! And with the outcome of it all, isn't it amazing how easy it is to change someone's allegiance! Also, I did find the scene where Il-Mae's dad grabs Tae-Il's groin to be a little disturbing. The father was clearly too happy in grabbing Tae-Il's crown jewels and having a good feel. I admit I don't know much, if anything really, about South Korean culture, but surely that is not something that happens!! And lastly, the, how shall I put this... anal probing that Tae-Il gives a few people... Is there any way in which we are supposed to believe the people on the receiving end wouldn't put up at least a bit of a fight?! While those bits were played for laughs, there were just a little dodgy me thinks!
Anyway, Crazy First Love is a film unlike what I was expecting. The trailer and cover give it every hallmark of a quirky little romantic comedy, but it is not. It overplays the drama side of things, and overdoses in the sentimental romance. The comedy, which was funny but too few and far between, is ousted into the background, leaving a film that has the potential to leave you a little sick. Too much crying is definitely a bad thing!
Audio & Subtitles
This Edko release of Crazy First Love comes with the Korean soundtrack in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. I chose to watch the film with the DTS option. In truth Crazy First Love is not a film that really requires anything fancy in the audio department, and that is basically shown from this 5.1 track. There are only a few (that I noticed anyway) discrete effects from the surround speakers. Most of the surrounds use comes from general ambient effects like rainfall, or from music or loud sound effects being spread around all the speakers. The vast majority of all the audio comes from the front centre speaker. All sound effects are crystal clear, and there is plenty of depth to the sound.
The subtitles are for the most part very good, but there are a few fall-downs. Quite a bit of text during the film is not subtitled, yet in other areas some text is subtitled. It is not as if the text that is not subbed isn't important. In one scene Tae-Il has a sign around him saying something that he is trying to get Il-Mae's attention with, but non-Korean readers won't know what it is. The spelling and grammar only have a few errors here and there, and there are also a couple of instances of missing words in the sentence. However, in none of the cases were the subtitles unintelligible.
The film print is a lovely anamorphic widescreen transfer. I didn't notice any dirt or speckles or anything like that at any point in the film, detail levels looked pretty sharp in most places, and colours were strong as well. The only negative criticism that I can give it, is that in some scenes I did notice a slight shimmer to the picture, indicating a little bit of grain to the print. Other than that though, it is excellent.
DVD & Extras
The DVD comes with quite a few extras. First there is the theatrical trailer, next up is a ~10 min segment entitled "Cha Tae Hyun in Hong Kong". This is in Cantonese and Korean and with Chinese subtitles only. Then there is a music video, and 10 minute Behind The Scenes featurette, a short TV spot, a photo gallery and finally details on the cast and crew, in both Chinese and English.
Crazy First Love has an excellent DVD release from Edko, and it is a film that some people may like. There were definitely elements to it that I found very entertaining, but the romance being shoved in your face so much masks this entertainment somewhat. If the more emotionally heavy handed side of things had been watered down and a bit more humour thrown into the mix, then Crazy First Love could have been a really good film. As it is though, it is nothing special at all.
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