Where to start? With the filmmaker who was cruelly dumped in a rural town and told to seek fresh inspiration there? With the energetic waitress who is willing to give him more than coffee in return for payment and has a talent for telling stories? For instance about Romance Joe, whom she had interrupted a little earlier as he tried to commit suicide in his hotel room, and who also wanted to make films?
It may even start with Romance Joe's squabbling parents. In all these intertwined stories, we keep seeing a different narrator. For instance, Romance Joe himself remembers a childhood love that he never dared to pursue. Then there’s the little boy who is looking for his mother who ran away...
Lee Kwang-Kuk plays a game with stories with unmistakable pleasure in this elegantly filmed feature debut. Its structure and the references to making films betray the influence of his mentor Hong Sang-Soo, to whom he was assistant director and who won a Tiger Award in 1997 for The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well. But Lee touches on Alice in Wonderland, and he also has his very own sense of humour.
In Romance Joe, someone can allege you don’t exist at all. Should you start doubting everything, just remember it’s only a film. And yet, despite all the irony and perspective, the characters are real enough to be moving. Winner of an audience award in Busan.