After becoming a Korean spa aficionado, it was only a matter of time before I became enamored of the greatest of Korean world exports. No, it’s not kimchee. I’m talking about K-dramas!
They’ve got dramas of all sorts playing on the screens at Korean spas, and yes, they are as addictive as they say. Being a history fangirl, I generally watch the 60+ episode period dramas, but I recently had the opportunity to review a contemporary rom-com movie, Penny Pinchers.
Back Cover Blurb
Ji-woong can’t get a job, survives on an allowance from his mom and is content to cruise through life on his looks and ability to talk a good game. But his freewheeling ways screech to a halt when his family cuts him off and his landlord finally evicts him. That same day, salvation arrives in the form of Hong-sil, a mysterious girl with an unusual proposal: ”Want to make some money? Then do everything I say.”
The only language option for this title is the original Korean in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with English subtitles. Overall, it’s a dialogue-heavy movie that does not rely on sound effects, and the music’s more indie than epic, so there isn’t much to say. Regarding the subtitles, they’re easy to read, but they’re not the prettiest (they’ve got a pixelated look to the edges). Translation of the dialogue is fine, but unfortunately, they don’t translate storefronts/signs. Also, there’s one scene where the characters are getting choked up watching a movie, but the movie they’re watching is not translated.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, the video for this was fine. The visuals were mostly urban scenes with only a couple wire work stunts. There were no technical issues that I noticed.
The front cover features Ji-woong and Hong-sil in a car ostensibly returning from a scavenging hunt. On the back are images of Ji-woong in a hoodie and Hong-sil in a short trenchcoat (from the Korean release posters), a few screen shots, and the series summary. (By the way, that picture of Hong-sil on the back is completely misleading. Her bare legs and high heels make her look sexy, but her look throughout the film is more along the lines of frumpy.) No DVD related inserts are included inside the case.
This release has quite a few extras. They include an 18 minute short on the making of Penny Pinchers; a Q&A with lead actors Song Joong-ki and Han Ye-seul; footage from a press conference, poster shoot, and VIP premiere; original South Korean trailers; cast and crew bios; and 5 Point Pictures trailers.
While watching the Penny Pinchers promo material included as extras, the tagline that kept popping up was “Let’s Date Without Money!” Actually, that line’s a bit misleading because there’s not much dating going on in the film. And the dates that do take place do not pair the two main characters together. It is a romantic comedy, but it’s more a tale of gradual understanding than a passionate pursuit of love.
The main male character, Ji-woong, is a handsome wastrel. Unable to get a job, he spends his days goofing around in Seoul, content to survive on an allowance from his mom in the countryside. But those days come to a screeching halt when a wild boar destroys his mom’s restaurant. His bank account runs dry, and his landlady evicts him soon after.
Enter Hong-sil, the girl living in the shabby rooftop apartment across from his (there seem to be a lot of these in K-dramas). She offers the newly homeless Ji-woong an unusual bargain: do exactly as she says for two months, and he’ll make $5000. He accepts, and Ji-woong finds himself thrust into a bizarre world of profit making and extreme miserliness.
In regard to characters, Ji-woong (played by Song Joong-ki) is your garden-variety good-looking smooth talker. Song played a similar self-indulgent sort in the period drama Sungkyunkwan Scandal, but this time he’s a broke good-for-nothing, not a rich scholar. While we get some laughs watching him try to weasel his way into things he can’t afford, he’s an open book, and at least for the first half the film, his actions are fairly predictable.
Hong-sil, on the other hand, is a much more interesting character. Played by Han Ye-seul, she’s a blend of ultra-cheapskate and queen of odd jobs. Despite her personal prohibition against dating (because it costs money), she does have a crush on her financial advisor, and her awkward attempts to endear herself to him lead to some entertaining moments. Of course, a personality like that doesn’t come out of thin air, and a large part of the plot is Ji-woong discovering the circumstances that shaped her into the person she is.
Unfortunately, the movie moves slowly in that department. It isn’t until about midway through the film that the couple’s relationship really comes to life. Until that point, the film feels more like a series of vignettes about the stupid things Ji-woong does because he’s broke and the shameless things Hong-sil does to make money.
Once Ji-woong starts to understand Hong-sil and Hong-sil gets an actual goal for her cash stockpile, the pace really picks up. There is one point in the latter half of the film that felt like a major hiccup though. A dramatic moment takes place over the Han River, but once past the climax, the follow-up happens so quickly, it’s almost as if it didn’t really matter. However, the final segment, with Ji-woong going after Hong-sil’s tree, was marvelously played and paced, making for a satisfying happy ending to the film.
By the way, the film’s rated 15+, but I’m not exactly sure why. It contains some swearing, some groping, and a crazy scene where Ji-woong is a few cents short of buying a condom, but no actual sex or nudity.
One more thing. As mentioned earlier, Hong-sil’s moneymaking schemes are what carry the film through its first half, but some of them might leave American audiences scratching their heads. A few, like scavenging junk from abandoned houses to pass as antiques, are self-explanatory, but others, like the redneck-style advertising tapes, I still don’t understand. Compounding that is the lack of subtitles for signs and storefronts. In one instance, Ji-woong points to a giant yellow van with a cutesy sign and logo. I thought it was a food truck at first, and it wasn’t until midway through the next scene that I realized it was a mobile blood donation unit.
In the DVD extras, the director describes Penny Pinchers as a “realistic” story. If by “realistic” he means no vampires and no crazy rich F4, it does fit the bill. Our super carefree spendthrift and our super penny pincher are extreme characters, but the relationship that results has a genuine and natural feel although the film does takes a while to build up to it. Penny Pinchers gets off to a slow start but makes its way to a superb finish.
First published at The Fandom Post: