Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cyrano Agency: The Dating Guru (시라노;연애조작단 / Si-Ra-No;Yeon-Ae-Jo-Jak-Do)

It's In His Kiss

Outsourcing, as one of the characters puts it, frees up one's time from doing something you're not good at, and leaving it to the paid professionals to deliver some quality service on your behalf. The Cyrano Agency is not your typical matchmaking agency, where dates get set up and you turn up, crossing your fingers on compatibility, conversation and so on. Its selling point is confidentiality since it involves a great deal of social engineering on the part of the Agency staff, crafting meticulous details from seemingly chanced scenarios to operate in right down to the minutest of things to say and do.

The brainchild of the agency is Byung-Hoon (Uhm Tae-Woong), who together with his failed troupe of actors and crew Min-Young (Park Shin-Hye), Jae-Pil (Jun A-Min) and Chul-Bin (Park Cheol-Min) form the core of Cyrano Agency, where like its namesake, become Cyrano de Bergerac equivalents through the adoption of the stage play for a larger playing field in real world dating, in order to keep afloat, pay the bills and one day reopen and get back to their original theatre business. It's a temporary set up that employ the widest range of their skill sets combined, where we spend a significant portion of the first act understanding the lengths they will go to for their clients to be successfully hooked up with the woman of their dreams - yes, it does seem like a predominantly male clientèle they attract.

The story picks up when a nerdy fund manager Sang-Yong (David Choi) walks in, and Byung-Hoon discovers that the target the agency is engaged to snag is none other than his ex-girlfriend Hee Joong (Lee Min-Jung). Talk about dilemmas here especially when there's still that lingering affection, and of course given the amount of manipulation that goes behind the scenes, there's this level of deception that one probably won't even want to put an ex through, and it also tosses up questions involving sincerity whether to attempt a pursuit on your own, given flaws, warts and all or to rely on others, since the pursuer obviously is having no qualms about getting everything engineered to seal the deal.

Like a typical Korean film, there's room for comedy as well as melodrama in a bloated film adamant in covering a lot of ground. There's the exploits of Sang Yong in getting to be within Hee Joong's attention radar which the Agency crafts, with laughs coming from the former's penchant to drift beyond his prepared script, and the various rib-tickling efforts from members of the agency who pride themselves in their work, sometimes not going according to plan when their thinking on their feet fails. Then there's Byung-Hoon's inevitable meddling when not being able to separate business and personal, seeing it as an opportunity once again to work his issues with his ex when the cards fall into the right places.

And Uhm Tae-Woong has that charisma to play the flawed Cyrano, bringing in the melodramatic elements as the story unfolded given the back story of the romance between him and Min-Jeong and how it sparked and eventually deteriorated, so in effect you get two stories for the price of one, with a twist in perception of this relationship put on the back burner. Exploration of the themes of Trust and Love, and the prioritization and importance of these two elements in a relationship got pushed to the forefront instead as the narrative builds toward its finale with both Sang-Yong and Hee Joong vying for Hee Joong, with one obviously not in the know of the other who's operating in the shadows, providing avenues for heart warming, and wrenching emotional outpouring in one combined, pivotal scene.

Then of course there's the performance of Lee Min-Jung, the central object of affection with those anime large and saucer shaped eyes you probably cannot keep your attention off since they speak volumes for her character, whether rolling them in exasperation, or connecting and communicating with her beaus through one key element of non-verbal expression of emotion. It's no wonder her performance here had snagged her a number of Best New Actress awards in Korea last year (enhancement notwithstanding!) as the Roxanne equivalent caught up with conflicting emotions. There was a recent local poll commissioned by Johnson and Johnson Vision Care Singapore (helps that the actress is a brand advocate too) about local perceptions of dialogues using the eyes, and it's no surprise on the affirmation on this technique used to express feelings and innermost thoughts. I would like to tell you to pay close attention, but writer-director Kim Hyeon-Seok had that in mind already to accentuate and exploited that into his storytelling technique.

The film had probably presented its arguments to try and swing the audience's sympathy toward the Christian character here rather than for Cyrano, but unfortunately cannot let go from its need to have an uplifting factor since this is a romantic comedy after all, with a minor romantic subplot kept brewing that you'll probably see it coming from the start. Personally, the story of Sang-Yong's pursuit of Hee Joong actually took a backseat as being the weaker of the two broad romances here and is a tad unconvincing, since after all, it's engineered, to perfection even. Still, there are plenty of stories out there about others attempting to hijack the mark they're employed to cover - coming to mind is Hollywood's own zany comedy There's Something About Mary - but for a more Asian spin coming from an adaptation of a well known classic, Cyrano Agency scores big marks.

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