Jeong Ga-young has spent the past several years carving out a space for herself on the fringes of the international festival circuit with films like The Bitch on the Beach, Hit the Night, and Heart. With these meta-cinematic romantic comedies, often starring herself as a hard-drinking, straight-talking filmmaker with a complex love life, Jeong has done as much as anyone to define a new kind of post-Hong romantic cinema. But now, with Nothing Serious, she’s taken on a co-writer (Wang Hye-ji) and moved decidedly into the mainstream for a bright, colorful, resolutely conventional, but utterly entertaining romantic comedy.
Jeon Jong-seo, who memorably made her debut a few years ago in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, plays a 29-year-old woman who loves drinking and sex and is distressed by the fact that her ex-boyfriend — they split up 3 years ago but have been still regularly hooking up ever since — is getting married. On a whim she tries out a dating app, where she is matched with Son Seok-koo, a writer who has just been assigned to his magazine’s sex column, to his never-ending embarrassment. He too is getting over a break-up, and the couple bond over a shared love of drinking soju and asking weird questions. He writes about their relationship in his column (keeping everyone’s anonymity), and it becomes a smash hit. But when she finds out about the columns, she ditches him. Will they find love in the end?
Of course they will. Because this is structured precisely as the movie you think it’s going to be. The only nod to Jeong’s indie roots comes in the dialogue’s explicit and frequent sexual references and profanity, giving the film something of the subversive charm of Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People or Bachelorette, or Pang Ho-cheung’s Love in a Puff and its sequels, similarly conventional films that breathed new life into old story structures with a linguistic frankness denied to filmmakers of earlier generations. As the Hollywood romantic comedy has spent the last decade and a half all but completely mired in the amiably structureless cul-de-sac of ad-libbed Apatovianism (what would we have to show for ourselves without Nancy Myers?), Jeong’s turn to professionalism doesn’t rankle as much as it might have in more interesting times. Nothing Serious lacks the streak of deep-seated loathing (directed both inward and outward) or the riffs on life in front of and behind the camera, of her grittier early films, but it does, like the recent films of Ohku Akiko, capture something of the loneliness of being a single person in an increasingly interconnected and yet unavoidably artificial world. She’s simply too smart a filmmaker to make anything less than interesting, and thanks to a bigger budget and charming stars (Jeon is, if possible, even more electric than she was in Burning), Jeong has given us one of the most purely delightful pop movies in recent memory.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.