Friday, August 15, 2008

Innocent Steps review

Young-sae was one of the best dancers in Korea, as we witness in the opening to the film. He dances beautifully with his love and protégée Se-young in the middle of a dance competition, until his rival Hyun-soo signals to two other dancers to “accidentally” knock Young-sae over and mess up his leg. Se-young later goes to dance with Hyun-soo and Young-sae spends his time a depressed wreck living in his messy apartment without a desire to dance.

Two years pass until Young-sae’s friend forces an imported Chinese girl upon him as his new partner. The girl is supposed to be Jang Chang-min, a girl with some dance experience, but her younger nineteen-year-old inexperienced sister comes in her place. Still, Young-sae decides to teach her dancing from scratch in the next three months before the annual dance competition and his dramatic comeback.

Addicted director Park Yeong-hoon returns with a slightly more formulaic upbeat romance in Innocent Steps as the inevitable happens and the two begin to fall for each other. Again, despite Moon Geun-young’s ridiculously young physical appearance, her cuteness shines just as it did in My Little Bride, reminding us how much better these films are because of her charm. The odd age difference quickly moves to the back of our mind though as the chemistry between her and Park Geon-hyeong works its wonders on the dance floor and off, in humorously awkward moments when they are trying to fake their marriage to avoid deportation.

The film’s attraction lies in the formulaic first hour as the two meet, try to deal with their circumstances, vigorously practice dancing and gradually form an irresistible bond. Fans of Shall We Dance and Dirty Dancing should surely enjoy the neat little montages of improvement, and the charming “love while you dance” approach. Fans of romantic comedy should get exactly what they want and more.

The film is on this road to perfection until it takes a strange dark drop for the final third. Granted, part of this criticism is based on our connection to the characters at this point, but even so, the plot takes a severe misstep. It gets points for being completely original in this section, but the tonal difference is so drastic from what we expect that it hurts the film a great deal. It’s very difficult to appreciate the “supposed” climactic dance finale to which the first half was working its way up. There are major character problems that do not get solved correctly.

The serious final third of Korean romantic comedies are supposed to slow down the fun, but still at least offer some pay-outs and righting of wrongs in the characters’ lives. Either Innocent Steps has a very pessimistic outlook on life, or no one really read the script. The film keeps us on our toes near the end because we notice the change in direction, but the film never delivers a viable alternative to the formulaic solution we had been expecting. Still, a lot of this is forgivable because of the earlier fun parts, and it just goes to show why so many of these films stick to what’s safe. If they deviate from the formula, they really have to get it right.


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