Romantic movies often go to great lengths to show us the special, magical moment of falling in love at first sight. Rarely, though, do they portray the mundane reasons why that love can fall apart. Sweet & Sour, the new romantic drama from director Lee Kye-byuk (Cheer Up, Mr. Lee, Luck-Key), does just that.
Da-eun (played by Chae Soo-bin) is working as a nurse when she first meets Jang-hyeok (Jang Ki-young) and they both fall under each other’s spell immediately. She sneaks naps on her overnight shifts from behind the curtains that shield his bed, while he texts his friends, who suggest he find a common interest with her to help strengthen their bond.
It works and what follows are scenes of coupled-up cuteness – the pair eating macarons from a stall together, hunting for couples’ outfits and plotting a Christmas holiday to Jeju Island. All seems well until Jang-hyeok gets a new contracted position in nearby Seoul (the movie is based between Korea’s capital and the city of Incheon). Suddenly, he’s spending more time stuck in traffic with Da-eun and, when either of them gets home from work, too tired to do anything but flop down on the bed, the cracks begin to show.
There’s one more spanner in the works of their relationship, too – Jang-hyeok’s rival at his new job. Han Bo-yeong is brilliantly played by f(x) singer Krystal Jung, who fills the character with a ruthless determination, but also hints of desperation. Bo-yeon repulses Jang-hyeok at first with her sloppy eating habits and rude demeanour, but soon the pair find themselves growing closer and closer.
The premise of Sweet & Sour – while not overly original – seems interesting enough. Yet once you press play and get deeper into the story, it almost immediately begins to drag. That’s nothing to do with the actors, who all put in fine turns, but the script. There’s little meaningful tension in what it’s trying to tell us – even when Da-eun and Jang-hyeok are at the peak of their problems, things pass by quietly.
Just when you think you know what Sweet & Sour is about, though, it hits you with a plot twist that makes you question everything you just watched. It’s a truly unexpected revelation, but still isn’t enough to save the movie and add some pace to proceedings. It serves as a frustration more than anything – why have Jang-hyeok and Da-eun come to the decisions they have, and what exactly is going on with him and Bo-yeong? Aside from the most obvious plot point, even basic elements feel like they are glossed over here.
If you’re looking for a sweet but sorrowful Korean film about the pressures of modern life and the impact they can have on our day-to-day existence, Sweet & Sour will tick a lot of those boxes for you. If it’s something deeper and more moving, you might want to keep on that search for the time being: this film ultimately provokes little emotion.
- Director: Lee Kye-byuk
- Starring: Chae Soo-bin, Jang Ki-young, Krystal Jung
- Release date: June 4 (Netflix)