SEOUL MATES (Nash Ang, 2014)
Official Entry, 2014 Cinema One Originals
Culture clash is always fascinating material for satire, especially with ones as rich and as colorful as those of the Filipino and Korean culture. Most Filipinos adore Korean culture almost as if it were a religion, from the hairstyles, the dresses, K-Pop, and yes Koreanovela. Koreans travel to the Philippines, mostly because we are damn good English speakers. And yes, the food of Korea and the Philippines which I’m sure the two opposite cultures enjoy.
So when a film comes, pitting a Filipino transwoman (Mimi Juareza) running after her two-faced boyfriend with a Korean guy (Jisoo Kim) who longs for the love of his life soon to marry another, the possibilities for comedy are endless. Also, it would be a perfect opportunity to parallel both the Filipino and Korean culture in perspective.
SEOUL MATES begins when Filipino Alice (Juareza) and Korean Joon (Jisoo Kim), following their respective heartbreaks both attempt to end their lives by jumping off a bridge. Their suicide plans are foiled by each other, and the two eventually become close, with Joon not knowing that Alice is actually biologically male. Meanwhile, Alice is still not over her ex-boyfriend Jason, and is determined to win him back.
Alice hatches a plan, with the help of Joon to separate Jason from his current Korean girlfriend, Suyong, while in the process reuniting Joon with the love of his life. A pretty elaborate plan, and this is where the film’s problems kick in.
While a mostly funny tale of mistaken identities, SEOUL MATES distracts the viewer by a lot of unnecessary scenes which drags the story into melodrama territory. Also, the attempt to end the film in a positive light backfires, which does not separate it from an average mainstream romcom/drama where everything must be resolved.
Also, the guy playing Jason (RC Eusebio) needs a lot of improvement in the acting department. There is a level of meanness and angst required to play an effective asshole, but Eusebio’s interpretation of the asshole boyfriend is neither scary nor gritty. The character is plain pathetic.
Alice has a friend whose daughter she does not have custody of, and another who is a closeted gay, and a struggling musician (played by the director himself). If I’m not watching FULL HOUSE (yes that Song Hye Kyo and Rain TV Series that had us all hooked on television) redux then I don’t know what. To match, Joon also has two guy friends who gives him unsolicited advice. The friends of the leads are there solely for unnecessary commentary.
The main takeaway from the film: the inspired performances of both Mimi Juareza and Jisoo Kim. When the two are together onscreen, their mismatched characters are adorable. I particularly loved the scene where Joon and Alice get the big reveal, and Alice makes a sarcastic remark regarding gender. Juareza delivers snappy one-liners like it’s her business.
The Korean girl who plays Suyong (Jiwon Cha) is also another capable actress, with a complete transformation from shy and naïve at the beginning to a woman scorned at the end. She speaks fluent English, too. And let’s not forget Joon’s mother whose prejudice makes for one hell of hilarious sequence.
There is a nod to Juareza’s previous film, QUICK CHANGE, in one scene here, where Alice wakes up in the morning, and looks at herself in the mirror. Coincidental maybe, but it seems referential to the daybreak scene in QUICK CHANGE where Juareza’s character realizes her self-worth.
I wish that SEOUL MATES went away with the mainstream ending, the overindulgence on jokes, and the actor who played Jason. The cultural differences are merely used as plot devices. Also, the beauty pageant sequence is too cliché, as if we really needed the main character to elaborate to us the definition of happiness.