Slow Video (Seullou Bidio)

Korea (2014) Dir. Kim Young-tak

Trust the Koreans to take a curious medical condition that could have been applied to a sci-fi action flick and use it to facilitate a romantic comedy. Or maybe we should applaud them for not going down such an obvious route?

Slow Video tells the tale of Yeo Jang-Boo (Cha Tae-Hyun), a man with a rare visual acuity that enables him to see in slow motion, although at the expense of his equilibrium when running or moving quickly without the aid of transport. After spending his developmental years stuck at home as a social outcast, Jang-Boo eventually steps out in to the big wide world and works at a CCTV control centre.

Jang-Boo becomes interested in watching many different people who are equally as lonely as he is and one day while out looking up a street he has been observing, he happens across Bong Soo-mi (Nam Sang-Mi) having an argument with a loan shark (Choi Seong-won). Jang-Boo recognises her as the only friend he had as a child and decides to try to woo her.

This film should send out warning signals that CCTV control operators are voyeuristically preying on the public for kicks and maybe more sinister and possibly salacious intentions; yet this aspect is somehow avoided and instead the safety of the public is genuinely the prime concern. Of course this doesn’t mean that the staff are portrayed a moral upstanding citizens either – this is the movies after all.

At its heart this is a romance story with a subplot that involves the importance of helping others get over their loneliness or tricky situations. Running beneath all of this is the more serious issue of the severity of Jang-Boo’s condition and how vital his memories play in his life. Rather than being a laugh out loud comedy which on occasion it suggests to be, this tone is more of a sentimental one as the film progresses.

We learn that as child Jang-Boo’s condition was just one problem – his father left to work overseas and died when he was young then after Soo-mi also moved away with her family, Jang-Boo locked himself away with the TV and watched soap operas to learn about people and life. And to counter his problem, Jang-Boo wears shades to protect his eyes which gives off an arrogant vibe to strangers.

At the control centre there are familiar tropes to put Jang-Boo in good company as a social misfit – his supervisor Byung-Soo (Oh Dal-Su) is a shy awkward chap while a self-interested spinster (Jin Kyung) dreams of romance yet her acerbic personality puts men off. On the monitors, Jang-Boo watches bus driver Sang-Man (Kim Gang-Hyun) throw a baseball alone; elsewhere a young boy Baek-Gu (Jung Yoon-Suk) drags his narcoleptic father (Ahn Kil-Kang) on a small trolley.

Presumably we should be laughing at these pitiful folk but the sentiment is decidedly sympathetic and non-judgemental, reminding us that this could be to any of us one day. Jang-Boo clearly empathises as he projects the images from their respective cameras on the big screen and engages virtually with them (e.g. he catches Sang-Man’s baseball throws), before slowly introducing himself into their lives to open up their social circles.

Soo-mi is the most independent of the lot, in a job and with aspirations of becoming an actress. To illustrate her moxie, Soo-mi auditions for a play by singing down her mobile phone in the middle of the street stopping the traffic in the process. She also finds it hard to accept Jang-Boo into her life again but he slowly wins her over, until the debt troubles provides too big a distraction to ignore.

From hereon in the remit is very much melodrama territory with the odd light moment as the reunited couple seem to take one step closer to becoming an item before a gesture falls flat due to external forces, or that monumental pest called “real life” throws another spanner into the works. Usually Korean comedy dramas suffer from an abrupt tonal shift halfway through but this film remains consistent in keeping the balance between the two elements to avoid this problem.

It is because of this that we can get a decent reading on the characters, thus are quite invested in their plights. However the issue of how deeply Jang-Boo’s condition will affect him is rarely raised until very late in the film, a plot point which surely should have been a regularly broached subject to heighten the drama heading into the climax. But those of you who like a good tearjerker will no doubt enjoy the denouement we are given.

Many faces in the cast will be familiar to regular viewers of Korean cinema including leading man Cha Tae-Hyun, who first made his name in the 2001 classic My Sassy Girl (the sequel to which arrived this year). He has been in many films covering all genres but his forte does appear to be cosy little comedy dramas such as this. Even with his eyes covered by dark glasses for most of the film, Cha is able to emote and create a quirky but likeable and above all real character in Jang-Boo.

Oh Dal-Su has a similarly rich CV usually in supporting roles and proves his reliability here too as Byung-Soo, who comes out of his shell thanks to Jang-Boo. Recalling her early roles as egregious and feisty women, Nam Sang-Mi is quite at home playing Soo-mi, a woman for whom normal rules do not apply but is soon forced to grow up and comply. Thankfully, Nam and Cha create a believably sweet chemistry that drives the bulk of the film.

Director Kim Young-tak has only one other film to his credit (2010’s hugely successful Hello Ghost) to which Slow Video is a distant cousin in terms of sharing a similar emotional tone and heartwarming narrative. Some nice ideas are present to spice up the comedy drama genre resulting in an enjoyable enough outing.