My Dear Enemy

My Dear Enemy ★★★★★

My Dear Enemy occupies a space in which the genre codes of road movies, comedies, romances, and dramas are close to converging. The film certainly has elements from all of them, but it would be inaccurate to categorize it as a road movie, a comedy, a romance, a drama, or any combination of the four. The unconventional narrative structure serves as the primary source of the film's genre ambiguity - it adheres to the principles of these genres but isn't restricted to their generic limitations. It's a film in which comedic, romantic, and dramatic things happen both on and off the road. It's also a film in which nothing appears to be happening. Even the threats and manic energy associated with the conflicts typically found in their respective genres are nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps this explains the uneventful yet calming nature of the story - many people have even questioned if My Dear Enemy had any profound point to pound home for a film that lacks anything reminiscent of any traditional forms of conflict or plot. Even the original Korean title, "One Fine Day," suggests that the film is merely concerned with photographing the mundane, the "nothing" that happens in our daily routines. That the film functions as a simple story ostensibly about "nothing" is one of its strengths and, to some extent, the "point." It establishes a sympathetic reverie that the audience can relaxingly spectate without the interruption of any apparent, significant conflict.

At the center of the film's narrative construction is Lee Yoon-ki's highly sensitive and confident direction, having a firm grasp of all the expressive components of the frame. Few modern filmmakers can use the frame so precisely without ever feeling clinical. In actuality, My Dear Enemy feels organic, alive - the film is simultaneously visually splendid and delicately mannered. Lee isn't only concerned with stimulating arrangements of light, color, scale, movement, distance, form, and design. Instead, he's dedicated to getting his right tone of city life, a personal vision of the urban universe of Seoul.

Furthermore, the collaboration between Lee and his remarkable ensemble cast produces something captivating, exhibiting a striking concentration and dramatic focus even from the most subtle of performances. Simple gestures and careful expressions skillfully characterize the people inhabiting Lee's Seoul. And because drama is maintained at an intimate level, never reaching the melodramatic highs that the majority of traditional romances have grown accustomed to, the stillnesses and surges of emotions all feel genuine.

What the craftsmanship involved in creating My Dear Enemy indicates is that simplicity and authenticity form the skeleton of the plot. A woman, Hee-soo (Jeon Do-yeon), tracks down her ex-boyfriend Byoung-woon (Ha Jung-woo) at a horseracing stadium and demands that he repays the $3,500 she had lent to him a year ago. It's obvious that Byoung-woon doesn't have the money, so he promises to retrieve it at the end of the day. To ensure that he clears his debt, Hee-soo accompanies him as they travel all around Seoul to borrow money from his acquaintances. From the premise alone, the story sounds uneventful. But whatever it is that the film offers is almost more than it needs.

My Dear Enemy is driven not so much by the twists and turns of a conventional story but by subtle emotional changes. The soundtrack, Kim Jeong-beom's upbeat bossa nova score, provides a clue for the way the film operates - it's a sketch, an observation, of people having conversations, often fueled by emotions brewed like the fresh morning coffee with the most tantalizing of aromas. Casual humiliations and arguments are to be expected, but character interactions are stripped of mawkish, melodramatically manipulative qualities. Simple and natural gradations of emotions are enough to portray something compelling. It's with this minimalist approach in storytelling that effectively reveals volumes about the history, personality, joy, pain, regrets, and dreams of the film's co-protagonists while we watch every change in expression and listen to what they want to say.

Time also plays a crucial role in Lee's directorial strategy. My Dear Enemy charts the physical and emotional changes of a relationship between two former lovers caught between the past and the present. By navigating what appears to be the vicissitudes of their ordinary lives within a single day, the film captures numerous details revealing not only Hee-soo and Byoung-woon's current predicaments but also their past ones. Moments denoting why and how their past relationship began, deepened, strained, and ended are present in nearly every scene. Time may have transformed parts of their idealism to disillusionment, but time's patience and compassion offer them chances to think, to learn, to move on.

A road movie set in Seoul demands the narrative be attuned to the city's urbanscape. It would even be fair to say that character and environment are inseparable, but not interchangeable. Characters talking, laughing, arguing, complaining, and talking some more are counterpointed or complemented by scenic urban backdrops. Any parking lot, horseracing stadium, corporate headquarter, grocery store, restaurant, luxury apartment, café, school, or street corner is personalized just by the presence of people being people: living, thinking, feeling. It's this very relationship between the people and their Seoul that defines the textures and rhythms of city living. Seoul affects Hee-soo and Byoung-woon's sense of space and time in subtle yet profound ways.

Of course, My Dear Enemy is primarily concerned with encouraging the audience to identify with its characters. Hee-soo's frustrations, annoyances, and bemusements along with her constant attempts at suppressing them are, to a certain degree, unique within the realm of cinema, but like most well-written characters, there's a familiarity to her personality that invites viewers to learn more about her needs and desires. The same applies to Byoung-woon with his charming, unwavering optimism. And as they visit one acquaintance to another and move from one conversation to the next, they slowly revise their view of the other, all of which is delightful, even beautiful.

My Dear Enemy is a simple film built on simple incidents, but it's this very simplicity that provides audiences with an engrossing plot. Viewers will leave the film feeling that Hee-soo and Byoung-woon's story may not have ended yet, but what's certain is that they aren't the same Hee-soo and Byoung-woon we first saw together at the horseracing stadium. Knowing that they were able to change - to let themselves be vulnerable, to accept help, to make human connections - makes their journey powerfully cathartic for both the characters and the audience. My Dear Enemy is the quintessential feel-good film.

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