Because I Love You (Saranghagi Ttaemoone)

Korea (2017) Dir. Joo Ji-hong

When legendary rock group KISS were asked if they copied Alice Cooper’s stage make-up, they responded by saying since it worked so well with one guy it would be great with four. Presumably, Joo Ji-hong felt the same way when he decided to expand loosely upon the premise of 2015’s Wonderful Nightmare (remade in China as Beautiful Accident).

Jin Lee-Hyung (Cha Tae-Hyun) is a songwriter, about to propose to his girlfriend Lee Hyun-Kyung (Seo Hyun-Jin) when he is involved in a car accident, ending up in a coma. Lee-Hyung awakes shortly after but not in his own body – he instead finds himself in the body of high school girl Kim Mal-Hee (Kim Yoon-Hye), who has just discovered she is pregnant.

Luckily, Mal-Hee’s friend Scully (Kim You-Jung) believes her disorientated friend that she has been possessed by a “ghost” (as she refers to Lee-Hyung hereafter) and becomes a guide for Lee-Hyung as he continues to jump from body to body, regardless of gender, solving relationship problems for different people. Meanwhile, Hyun-Kyung, unaware of the proposal, is struggling to resume her music career due to severe stage fright.

The comparisons between Because I Love You and Wonderful Nightmare are admittedly superficial through the shared body swap premise, but given they arrived two years apart from one another and so soon after 2014’s Miss Granny, this is inevitable. But Joo Ji-hong, in his second feature film, doesn’t appear to be deterred by such petty thinking and ploughs ahead with his take on this sub-genre regardless.

Unlike Wonderful Nightmare, no explanation, divine or otherwise, is given for why the comatose Lee-Hyung should be able to occupy another body or what exactly is being transferred – his spirit, his soul or his consciousness? The wanting for rational elucidation on this matter, or even a half-plausible, pseudo-scientific placebo, does become a niggling concern but not enough to be a permanent distraction.

It is not even five minutes into the film before Lee-Hyung transfers into Mal-Hee’s body, suggesting Joo and his co-writers Hwang Song-Jae and Yoo Young-A didn’t actually have a plausible reason so they decided just to overawe us with a series of heart-warming and often tragic vignettes, starting as soon as possible so the less discerning viewer wouldn’t notice.

With a thirty-something man controlling her body, Mal-Hee’s sudden personality change doesn’t go unnoticed yet everyone seems to accept it, yet Scully (real name Jang Soo-yi) is the only one to believe the crazy possession story, which even a street psychic refuses to accept. Once the initial body swap humour peters out Mal-Hee’s pregnancy turns this into a moving tale of responsibility and fast-tracked maturity, setting up the formula for the rest of the film.

The next relationship that needs fixing concerns workaholic police detective Park (Sung Dong-Il) who is about to sign the divorce papers served by his long-suffering wife (Oh Na-Ra) but their young son Jung-Min (Kim Kang-Hoon) has other ideas. He handcuffs his bickering parents together while they slept so they couldn’t split, but this proves both disastrous – ludicrously so in fact – and fruitful in the long run.

After Scully’s teacher Mr. An (Bae Sung-Woo) is given a gentle shove in the direction of his younger admirer Da-In (Kim Sa-Hee) in a forgettable skit, comes the film’s most devastating arc. Lee-Hyung possess an elderly woman with dementia (Sun Woo Yong Nyeo) whose husband (Park Geun-Hyung) is desperate for her to recognise him one last time for his own personal reasons in a story that could have carried the entire film alone.

Hyun-Kyung’s relationship with Lee-Hyung appears in clumsily inserted flashbacks but finally takes the spotlight in the closing act. Squeezing one more complex romance in at this late juncture, Lee-Hyung’s colleague Park Chan-Young (Lim Ju-Hwan) regularly visits Lee-Hyung’s hospital bed because he fancies Hyun-Kung! And with fate being a cruel bugger, guess whose body is the last one to be occupied by the Lee-Hyung?

Omnibus films work because the individual segments are self-contained – the pervasive feeling about the stories here is that despite their convergence for the denouement, each one has the potential to be explored in greater depth. Instead we are afforded a simple snap shot, essentially the final act of each one, that doesn’t give us quite enough to become fully invested in the emotion and poignancy of the scenario.

Perhaps five mini-stories was too much for a 104-minute film, which also contains the wrap around tale of Hyun-Kung that morphs into the final arc, and part of this is hampered by the random appearance of the flashbacks distorting the narrative flow. It is ultimately the characters that suffer since there is little to latch on to in discerning what make them tick.

Each story comes with its own moral, showing some thought has gone into diversifying the purpose of the body swaps. Apart from being capable of expressing himself through song, there is little rationale as to why Lee-Hyung was given this opportunity, his character being the least defined of them all, with the exception of Scully, great fun through Kim You-Jung’s charismatic performance but an unexplained choice of sidekick.

Cha Tae-Hyun, and the actors playing the people being possessed are in a weird position in having to adopt different personalities but only doing half the work. Cha is shown in the attire of the other person either as a reflection or corporeal version, whilst the others play a version of Lee-Hyung as well as their own characters. At least the cast all understand this and have fun with the changes, making it easier to believe.

Because I Love You is as sentimental as its title suggests. Those who cry easily at films, you’ll need those hankies handy for this one. It’s an amiable and well-meaning collection of tales, each one a potential feature film plot, but in this format and with the whimsical concept Joo may have overstretched himself to make it work as per his aspiration.

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