Penny Pinchers (Tikkeulmoa Romaenseu)

Korea (2011) Dir. Jeong-hwan Kim

College graduate Ji-Woong (Song Joong-Ki) prefers to live the high life on his mother’s income rather than getting a job of his own, despite bring five months behind on the rent of his small and cheap rooftop apartment. Living in the cheap building opposite is Hong-Sil (Han Ye-Seul), a loner who uses every single trick in the book of frugality to save money and exist at the same time. Upon learning that all of the tenants in Ji-Woong’s building are due to be evicted with a seven million won relocation payoff, Hong-Sil hatches a plan to pay off Ji-Woong’s rent then re-sign it in her father’s name once the landlady has evicted Ji-Woong. Then with nowhere else to go, Hong-Sil offers Ji-Woong her roof top and a tent to live in rent free on the proviso he accompanies her in her money making schemes.

The original Korean title of this rom-com translates to Many A Little Romance leading to the rare occurrence where the international title is far more preferable and more accurate. The premise of two people with differing values and attitudes towards money is given a slight twist here but the traditional rom-com ingredients are all present and correct with a little added emotional drama thrown in to seal the predictable union of the two leads in the film’s final act. While the film isn’t laugh out loud funny it is amusing and carries a certain charm of its own, and no doubt make even encourage a few spendthrifts to re-evaluate their financial attitudes in these lean times.

Ji-Woong lives beyond his means in order to hang with his equally lazy and well kept friends thanks to the steady cash flow injection from his mother’s restaurant – until a wild boar rampages through the premises and destroys everything in its wake. Without this monetary lifeline, Ji-Woong is up the proverbial creek, but that doesn’t stop him from lying about working for a top telecoms company in order to impress materialistic Gyung-Joo aka “Mint” (Shin So-Yul), who only likes Ji-Woong when he’s splashing the cash. The fact he can’t even afford a packet of three when Mint is in the mood leaves him wide open for Hong-Sil’s money making master plan. While she is a normally confident person, she has no friends, although she tries her hardest to impress her financial advisor Gwan-Woo (Lee Sang-Yeob) who suggests a dual savings scheme to Hong-Sil which will earn her twenty million won, hence the need for Ji-Woong’s presence. But while Hong-Sil is selling empty bottles and raiding empty houses for re-sellable goods, her gambler father pops by to borrow money which he can’t repay, straining their relationship further than it already is.

Some of the schemes Hong-Sil ropes Ji-Woong into may seem a tad immoral at first but really aren’t, compared to the deal Gwan-Wo has set up. Others are quite ingenious – such as the illuminated shuttlecocks (and guess who caused the blackout on the badminton courts in the first place?) or the wedding guest scheme where they make up the numbers at a wedding party for a small fee. But while Hong-Sil insists that Ji-Woong saves all of his money, the lure of getting intimate with Mint proves to be too strong and one pair of expensive shows later threatens to undermine all of their hard work.

What is a nice touch about this film in that while it is almost a given that Hong-Sil and Ji-Woong will pair up in the end, the hints of this are well and truly buried for the majority of the film with not even the hint of an awkward drunken kiss to tease the viewers. Instead it is the trust that forms between the two, especially on Ji-Woong’s part, which is the bond to be focused on here as both are too busy pursuing romantic interest elsewhere. Free from all of the typical rom-com clichés and tensions the story of financial exploits of the lead duo is therefore given more room to breathe. This does mean the heavy drama is crammed into the final act and thus we rush to the emotional climax but we care more about the characters and the importance of the actions taken since time was given to getting this aspect of the story over. And with two energetic and likeable leads in Song Joong-Ki and Han Ye-Seul make this an easier film to watch.

Penny Pinchers sails close to the usual rom-com conventions without getting too wet and while it offers little in the way of originality in its formula, it is nonetheless a pleasant and undemanding watch.