10:00 - 30th December 2013, by David West

How To Use Guys With Secret Tips

Choi Bo-na (Lee Si-yeong) is going nowhere in her life and career. She has been thanklessly slogging away as a 2nd Assistant Director for a conceited director of TV commercials, watching less experienced men be promoted ahead of her just because she's a woman. But she finds the seeds of change in the form of Dr Swalski (Park Yeong-gyoo) , the self-appointed guru of a series of self help video tapes called How To Use Guys With Secret Tips. To her surprise, when Bo-na starts putting the Doctor's techniques into practice, she finally starts to be noticed instead of ignored, and even attracts the attentions of Lee Seung-jae (Oh Jeong-se), an up and coming actor with an ego the size of Mars.

First time director Lee Won-suk takes a straightforward rom-com premise about a woman learning to use her charm and wits to get ahead and uses it as a springboard for sight gags, visual invention and a fairly sharp critique of sexism in modern Korean society. Park Yeong-gyoo is spot-on as Dr Swalski, sporting a collection of audaciously loud suits and popping up in the most unexpected places to dispense his sage words of wisdom. Lee Si-yeong is vulnerable and sweet as Bo-na, although the actress is too pretty to ever completely pass convincingly as the Plain Jane the script casts her as, despite Lee Won-suk wrapping her up in a baggy hoodie. Oh Jeong-se has the toughest role as Seung-jae, who is prouder than a peacock, vain, and frequently preposterous. Fortunately, Oh Jeong-se does a good job of playing it straight no matter how absurd Seung-jae becomes in his desperate attempts to woo Bo-na once she starts to come out of her shell. His many ridiculous hairstyles are a wonder unto themselves, but Oh carries them all off with a gloriously deluded bravado.

The latter half of the film introduces a rival for Seung-jae in the form of Oh Ji-hoon (Kim Joon-seong), a successful star who has achieved the fame and acclaim that Seung-jae desperately wants. When Seung-jae starts to suspect that Bo-na is involved with Ji-hoon, he becomes consumed with jealousy. The second half is less assured than the first. Bo-na's transformation from shrinking violet to confident, if not manipulative, go-getter is funny and engaging, but the tone wobbles in the second half as Lee Won-suk grapples with the challenge of balancing the comedy with the tangled romance. Bo-na's new found confidence seems to evaporate mightily fast, and the introduction of an old boyfriend makes the plot cluttered, where it should be squarely focused on resolving her mixed up relationship with Seung-jae. Director Lee tries to go for a wacky, screwball ending, but it hits a little wide of the bull's-eye and feels needlessly contrived. But don't let that, or the rather clumsy title, put you off. At its best, How To Use Guys With Secret Tips is fast and funny, and suggests that Korean comedy fans should expect great things from Lee Won-suk in the future.

When she's not lighting up the screen, Lee Si-yeong is an amateur boxer and she scores a knockout here with a combination of charisma and strong comic timing. How To Use Guys... has bags of energy and some great sight gags, and it's encouraging to see distributor Third Window returning to Korean cinema after years focusing exclusively on Japanese movies.
SCORE: 4/5
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