Length: 117 minutes
Director: Kim Jong Kwan
Cast: Nam Joo Hyuk, Han Ji Min
Language: Korean with English and Chinese subtitles
Release date: 10 December 2020 (Singapore)
3.5 out of 5 stars
By Bryan Tan
A remake of the 2003 Japanese movie, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish, Josée is about a romance transcending social class between Yong Seok (Nam Joo Hyuk), a university senior student, and Josée, (Han Ji Min), an orphaned, disabled young woman.
This would be the second time that Start-up (2020) hottie Nam Joo Hyuk will be acting alongside Han Ji Min since their last drama Radiant in 2019. This would also be Nam’s first breakthrough film as the romantic lead in a movie, signalling a career shift towards more serious acting for the former model. Viewers would be familiar with Han Ji Min from drama hits like Rooftop Prince (2012) and The Light In Your Eyes (2019).
The story begins with Yong Seok finding Josée sprawled by a side road, having fallen from her electric wheelchair which had a broken wheel. He goes out of his way to acquire a cart to take the disabled young girl home. She speaks and even thanks him in informal speech, which is considered rude in Korean society especially when talking to strangers.
Yong Seok’s efforts are rewarded with a rather rustic and unappetising meal that Josée’s grandmother whips up for him in the large and ramshackle house that the two of them live in, filled with hoarded goods and empty bottles. He leaves after unenthusiastically accepting the meal, perhaps obliging only because of the fact that Josée is rather attractive.
An unlikely relationship springs forth
The class separation between Yong Seok and Josée could not be clearer. Yong Seok is a young university school senior in engineering with promising job prospects. Josée lives in abject poverty, unable to work because of her disability, and has no citizen identification. Her grandmother scavenges for cardboard and recyclables to eke out a meagre day-to-day living.
An unlikely relationship blossoms between the two, as Yong Seok continues to visit Josée despite her protestations. He finds out Josée is a voracious reader, and has fabricated a whole made-up fantasy world of her own to escape the realities of her hopeless situation.
Enraptured by her uncommon looks and incredible delusions, Yong Seok tries to understand her world and lift her out of her poverty through engaging social workers and Seoul’s resources for the disabled.
But for Josée, these new feelings of affection and attachment are foreign to her, holding both the unfamiliar emotions of pain and pleasure as she grapples with her insecurities and situation, inwardly wondering if anyone could love someone as broken and unwanted as her.
Yet, the film ends on a sad and abrupt note. Josée and Yong Seok supposedly go to Scotland after an unexpected time-skip, but it is revealed that Josee goes there alone, or not at all; perhaps it was all in her head? Yong Seok gets together with his old crush Soo Kyung and they are about to be happily married.
The movie does incredibly well expressing the early stages of romantic attraction between two very different people from different backgrounds. Nam Joo Hyuk’s refreshing youthfulness and enthusiasm lends a powerful charm in contrast to the self-deprecating and insecure snarkiness of Han Ji Min’s character. But it seems like the movie completely ignored the climax and went straight into an abrupt time-skip, skating over what actually happened between the two of them.
Josée succeeds on multiple levels, but it just felt like the director ran out of steam towards the end and just wanted to finish it without proper closure or even a climax. It made the message of the movie seem like disabled people are not deserving of love and keeping it; the reason for Yong Seok leaving Josée was painfully unclear and unresolved.
It is an unfortunate and rather tragic end for a movie that had so much potential.