The Beast and the Beauty (야수와 미녀)

야수와 미녀

A homely guy falls in love with a beautiful girl and doesn’t much mind his looks because she’s blind. But when she gets an eye transplant, he decides he’s too unattractive for her and pretends to be on an extended work assignment in Hawaii, leaving room for his high school rival and resident hottie to make his move.

Scenarios such as this one generally get cataloged under saccharine storylines I despise. Blindness as a plot device to elicit sympathy smacks of cheap storytelling and does more to reinforce stereotypes than to break them down. But leave it up to Korean filmmakers to make this movie worth watching.

Voice actor Dong-gun (Ryoo Seung-bum) is all manners a wonderful boyfriend to Hae-joo (Shin Min-a). He shields her from the rain, ties her shoelaces when they come undone, and flies paper airplanes off the roof with her. Despite this, he has no confidence in his rough visage, and when Hae-joo regains her sight, he quickly arranges a plastic surgery fixer upper before he is willing to see her.

Dong-gun is of course not monstrous looking at all; Ryoo gives his character a schlubby charm that would endear him to many a girl. It’s a role that could easily have sunk into the pathetic though. Dong-gun gets several chances to set it right with Hae-joo but never grabs the opportunity. Ryoo breathes life into Dong-gun’s tortured hesitations and makes his self-doubt both amusing and very human.

Shin, who might be Cherrie Ying’s Korean sister, also delivers a dazzling performance. She spends a lot of time as the girl of everyone’s dreams, capturing not only the attention of Dong-gun but also that of dishy policeman Jun-ha (Kim Kang-woo) and the tatted members of the Dragons gang. She gets on the receiving end of some patronizing behavior, especially from Dong-gun who thinks he needs to create a perfect world for her, but Shin brings out Hae-joo’s flinty side and shines especially in the ending scenes.

Kim rounds out the cast and likewise lives up to his part as the handsome, successful rival to Dong-gun. Yet the suave Jun-ha also has a tentative side that one doesn’t usually see in such characters. He can’t figure out why Hae-joo doesn’t go for him and manages to express his frustrations in a way that doesn’t come off as conceited.

The actors’ measured approach makes this movie a touching romantic comedy, satisfying with some true laugh out loud moments – including a humorous turn by Ahn Kil-kang as a gangster with a grudge – and a lot of heartfelt romance.

Released: 2005
Prod: Lim Seong-yong
Dir: Lee Gye-byeok 이계벽
Writer: Han Jeong-hyeop 한정협; Hwang Jo-yoon 황조윤
Cast: Ryoo Seung-bum 류승범; Shin Min-a 신민아; Kim Kang-woo 김강우; Ahn Kil-kang 안길강; Ahn Sang-tae 안상태; Yun Jong-shin 윤종신
Time: 102 min
Lang: Korean
Reviewed: 2014