Earlier this year Korea put out its first 3D tech-tank with "Mr. Go", an expensive experiment that was truly fantastical but still failed to capture the imagination of the Korean public. The film recovered just over a third of its $22.5 million price tag, and some might ask why such a gorilla was even allowed out of its cage in the first place. In 2011 Kim also help produced "My Way", another apparent cash cow that failed to come in for the slaughter. So while big-budget blockbusters may not appear to be Kim's forte, he did managed to find the right stuffing in his comedies "Take Off" (2008) and "200 Pounds Beauty" (2006). Kim's current filmography and general grand ambitions are closely aligned with Hollywood's narrative style and mode of storytelling, so while some of his epic features have gloriously busted, others have to be able to hit the mark when scaled down to matters more domestic – and just a pound less daring.
"200 Pounds Beauty" was adapted from the Suzuki Yumiko manga and strikes all the topical chords and fantasies of our time. Our heroine Hanna (Kim Ah-joong) is an obese young woman with an amazing singing talent, but her pudgy physicality prevents her from taking centre stage herself. Instead, Hanna shadows the real stars, lip-syncing below stage as her dream plays above and without her. She is actually a very tragic character, and before the guillotine comes down on her gut we do get a taste of her rich and wholesome centre. Hanna is almost able to handle all the crude comments and mockery she experiences everyday, but makes the decision to go under the knife when she overhears her secret crush (slick producer Song-joon played by Joo Jin-mo) speaking ill of her to the pretentious star she sings for. Hanna gets a tip-to-toe transformation by blackmailing a plastic surgeon, done. Ding, she then sneaks back into the music business hoping to impress all, but particularly her inactive prince Song-joon.
The film's narrative is structured around two areas of conflict: What will happen when her fans find out she might melt under the starlight? And, how will her long-time love react when he feels the truth? These two questions are the main driving force in Hanna's quest and her struggle to be accepted in the industry/world. The film does appear to glamourize the superficial nature of pockets of the industry and its players, leading to a cathartic denouncement that is still hard to stomach in many ways. These kinds of criticisms are obvious and are part of the game here, but what Kim does quite skilfully is keep Hanna and her skinny doppelganger attached at the hip. While Hanna's external appearance changes most dramatically, she is never consumed by her own body and remains, for better or worse, that innocent sheep in wolfskin stockings. And although Sang-joon said somethings to an airhead in a bathroom once, he always seemed to have a soft spot for this particular gorilla before she became a stunning star.
"200 Pounds Beauty" was the third highest grossing film of its year, and currently outranks other fan favourites like "The Man From Nowhere" (2010) and "My Sassy Girl" (2001) with its 6,619,498 million admissions. The film was also popular in the Pan-Asian markets, and its Hollywood veneer and scaffolding makes it a very approachable entry into Korean romantic comedies. Its global and local appeal is clear, and although it moans for feminist critique, "200 Pounds Beauty" was still able to successfully showcase a lot of its charming local core. Kim may have battled to place Korean soldiers on the beaches of Normandy, and to launch a foreign circus gorilla into Korea's MLB, but in 2006 he did manage to sneak an alienated freak back into the K-pop dynasty with heart.
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