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Art Museum by the Zoo
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Year: 1998
Director: Lee Jung-hyang
Cast: Shim Eun-ha, Lee Sung-jae, Ahn Sung-ki, Song Sun-mi, Kim Kwang-il, Kim Sun-hee, Ahn Soon-mo, Lee Sang-jin, Ryu Seung-soo, Lee Kyung-shik
The Skinny: Director Lee Jung-hyang's debut is a delightfully sweet film. It has a quirky, understated pace, strong performances from Lee Sung-jae and Shim Eun-ha, involving characters, unusual plot developments, and an interesting soundtrack. If Christmas in August changed Korean melodrama forever, this film can be claimed as having considerably improved the country's outlook on romantic comedies.
by LunaSea:

     Chun-hee (Shim Eun-ha) shoots wedding videos for a living, and secretly loves In-kong (Ahn Sung-ki), an assistant to a senator. He barely looks at her, but anytime she's in the proximity of the man, it's a nightmare. She can hardly speak and her awkward mannerisms are completely exposed. She knows it's an impossible love story, but keeps believing that one day he'll talk to her. Enter Chul-soo (Lee Sung-jae), a soldier on leave who is looking for his girlfriend Da-hye (Song Sun-mi). The only problem is, Chun-hee is now living in her old apartment, and Da-hye already made plans to get married with someone else. Chul-soo's world is shattered, but he at least develops a friendship with Chun-hee.
     Chul-soo seems like a chauvinistic pig (or the proverbial alpha male) at first. He criticizes her for being a die-hard romantic, and says the script she's writing (for a prize contest) lacks any interest. Why, you ask? Well, it has no sex scenes! But when he offers his typewriting skills to help Chun-hee complete her script, she discovers a side of him that's much more charming. Suddenly her fairy tale with In-kong is upstaged by Chul-soo's presence.
     The reasons for her shifting attention are many. In-kong's "perfect image" starts to shatter once Chul-soo injects some reality in Chun-hee's delusions. At the same time, Chul-soo's personality has an effect. He's not the most likable guy on earth, but he proves himself to be honest and reliable on many occasions. The funny thing is that while developing the script for a far-fetched fairy tale romance, the two start to accept each other's imperfections. They realize both In-kong and Da-hye (whose attention Chul-soo was hoping to regain) weren't for them. But, even if they'll never admit it, Chul-soo and Chun-hee feel good together.
     Part-autobiographical tale and part genre deconstruction, Art Museum By The Zoo works mainly because of two things. One, the romance is uncommon. Even if the conclusion is obvious, it doesn't develop along the lines of the usual three-act journey. Both characters maintain their personality and outlook on life at the end of the film. Unlike other romantic comedies, the main characters don't make any changes that seem artificial and convoluted. The cliché that opposites attracts is used in a capable way by director Lee Jung-hyang, who pokes fun at the stereotypical role of men and women in romantic comedies.
     The other winning factor is the chemistry between Lee Sung-jae and Shim Eun-ha. As he's shown in many other roles, Lee Sung-jae has a talent for portraying flawed characters with a certain charm. Chul-soo is often a little off-putting, but you never feel annoyed by him. In truth, he just doesn't know better. Shim Eun-ha simply gives light to this film. She's the perfect everyday woman who wears her shortcomings on her sleeve. She totally deviates from the conventional image that women had in prior Korean romantic comedies. She's charming because of her flaws, and Shim is able to bring that to the forefront. While her role in Christmas in August made her a superstar, her part here is still Shim at her likable best.
     With this film, director Lee Jung-hyang has established herself as Korea's most delicate, involving storyteller. Her ability to transform fluff into memorable scenes is remarkable. There are many occasions when scenes seem futile, but she's able to give small details an impact tothe overall story. Her screenplay flows extremely well, and never drags or loses its focus. Art Museum by The Zoo is a film that should be tasted slowly, like fine wine. It won't work on your emotions with the power of something like Christmas in August, A Day or many other excellent Korean melodramas. Its delightful little moments, playful jazzy soundtrack, great cinematography, and wonderful use of sound make this film one of the most rewarding of the nineties. A great little film. (LunaSea 2002)


36th Daejong (Grand Bell) Awards
Best Actress (Shim Eun-ha)
Best New Director (Lee Jung-hyang)
Best New Actor (Lee Sung-jae)
Popularity Award (Shim Eun-ha)
20th Chungryong (Blue Dragon) Awards
Best Screenplay (Lee Jung-hyang)

Availability: Spectrum DVD (Korea)
Region 3 (Actually All Region) NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English & Korean Subtitles
EDKO Video DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English & Chinese Subtitles
 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen