Actors: Park Seo-Jun, Han Hyo-joo
Director: Jong-Yeol Baek
Format: Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, THX, Widescreen
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Run Time: 127 minutes
At some point, everyone who has been in love (and more importantly, loved) asks the question, “Why me?” What is it in me that deserves to be loved, or is it all surface attraction we use to convince ourselves of a deeper connection? These are the questions asked by The Beauty Inside, a fantasy romance in the tradition of Meet Joe Black, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the final sequence of the Korean My Sassy Girl. Even though the narrative comes closest to the Brad Pitt vehicles, it is the blending of comedy, melodrama, and fantasy which make the tone align most with the Korean film. Other than revenge thrillers, romantic comedy with a tinge of the surreal is what South Korean cinema seems to do best, both in television and film. While The Beauty Inside doesn’t break any genre molds (adapted from a largely unseen American online series), it is a testament to the filmmaking that its unique ideas come off so unassuming.
We are dropped right into the absurd with protagonist Woo-jin’s voiceover describing his unique condition in life. When we join Woo-jin, he is played by Dae-myung Kim, though he is only one of 21 actors to play the role through the course of the film, as out protagonist wakes up in a different body each day. This is somewhat similar to the Adam Sandler vehicle, The Cobbler, though Woo-jin lacks any control over the situation forcing him to walk each day in someone else’s shoes. Though he has developed a lifestyle that adjusts to his unique condition, working from home and only sharing his secret with his mother (Suk Mun) and his childhood friend, Sang-beck (Dong-hwi Lee), it is clear that Woo-jin longs for more out of life than the one-night-stands that each relationship inevitably turns into.
This lifestyle changes when our protagonist meets a passionate young woman named E-soo Hong (Hyo-joo Han), who has an admiration for the custom furniture business developed by Woo-jin in his solitude. Rather than ask her out immediately, Woo-jin must wait for the day that he awakes in a body attractive enough to give him the confidence. It comes in the form of actor
one of many young heartthrob performers to fill in the role between comically
old and/or more diverse representations of race and gender. The extreme
switches don’t provide the type of social commentary you might expect, however,
and even The Cobbler seems more
interested in these larger issues than The
Beauty Inside, which instead focuses on the difficulties this would offer a
romantic relationship. Seo-jun Park
While the web series ended with a contrived happy ending upon the protagonist’s revelation to his love interest, this is where The Beauty Inside is steeped in the rich tradition of Korean melodrama. Woo-jin’s difficulties are somewhat dismissible, especially since the narrative has already established a pattern for him to grow accustomed to the situation. It is E-soo who struggles with the new situation, growing increasingly distraught over the stress of being unable to recognize her love from one day to the next. There is also the social repercussions of being seen dating a different man each day, and Woo-jin must face the reality of the hardships he is putting E-soo through.
Despite the potential for a thoughtful narrative, commercial director Baik instead remains focused on the emotional aspects of the narrative. This is likely to suit romance fans just fine, though others may be disappointed by the missed opportunity for discussion of larger social issues. Even the treatment of gender differences is largely glossed over, with the days that Woo-jin is given a female body treated with light jokes rather than thoughtful consideration. But this is also what keeps The Beauty Inside well within the structure of a romantic comedy, never really threatening to take away the happy ending that fans of this genre feel entitled to.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 6/10