Director: Ryoo Jang-ha
Screenplay: Ryoo Jang-ha, Lee Taek-kyeong, Kang Kyoo-heon, Yoon Taek-Geun, Jeon Hyun-hee
Cast: 이연희 (Lee Yeon-hee); 유지태 (Yoo Ji-tae); 강인 (Kang-in); 채정안 (Chae Jung-an)
Trailer: Hello Schoolgirl (no subtitles)
Based on the webcomic 순정만화 (Suneong Manwha / Love Story or Crush on You in English) by 강풀 (Kang Pool), Hello Schoolgirl is an endearing film about four individuals – schoolgirl Soo-young, social office worker Yeon-Woo, public duty servant Kang Sook fulfilling his military service and slightly older woman Jeong Da-jeong – whose paths intersect and who fall in love despite their circumstances.Yeon-woo (Yoo Ji-tae) has recently moved into a new apartment complex. Sorting the trash one day, he meets one of his neighbours, Soo-young (Lee Yeon-hee), who sends garbage bags flying into the air, only vaguely aiming at the container they are meant to go in. Yeon-woo tells her off, but Soo-young does not really care: she lives her life freely, and is outgoing, outspoken and cheerful, very much unlike shy and gentle ‘good boy’ Yeon-woo. He diligently fulfils mundane duties at the district office and helps his elders, carrying their heavy shopping bags and eating food offered even when full.
Neither Yeon-woo or Soo-young are looking for a relationship, nor expecting to fall in love with someone significantly younger or older – she’s 18, he’s 30 – but they are two connected souls. They strike up a friendship and innocently spend time together, fishing for stuffed toys in game machines. They aren’t quite conscious that it is love that it is developing between them, but when we see them texting each other at night (“Hope you enjoy your dinner.” “You too”. “Smoking again?” “Studying till late?” “Sweet dreams. See you tomorrow.” “Get some sleep.”), we sense their growing intimacy and they do too.
The second love story is between Kang Sook (Kang-in) and Kwon Ha-kyung (Chae Jung-an). Sook Kang has been watching Ha-kyung on the subway and finds himself smitten with her although she is somewhat older than him. He approaches her, but is quickly rebuffed by the somewhat glum Ha-kyung, whose thoughts are still lingering on a previous relationship. Their pairing is not quite as interesting as that of Yeon-woo and Soo-young. Although Sook Kang’s boyish earnestness serves his character well, Ha-kyung’s personality can be off-putting even if there is a story behind her standoffishness.
The age gap between the two would-be couples plays an important role in the film, symbolising societal norms of what makes a suitable partner – family background and upbringing are others that are noted. Sunjeong Manwha reminds viewers as that such norms are often prejudice and, at times, need to be challenged. Soo-young may be a minor in the eyes of the Korean law, but it is obvious that she is perfectly matched with Yeon-woo. As Ha-kyung also learns, sometimes you need to just allow yourself to fall in love.
The film’s success lies in the pleasure it takes in little things – a pair of sunglasses hidden on top of a closet, matching umbrellas, fake snow, pinky promises – and the humour that it manages to infuse into the characters’ conversations and actions. The cinematography of Sunjeong Manwha also contributes, images such as the shot of Soo-young’s feet as she takes that decisive step into Yeon-woo’s apartment for the first time, are simple, beautiful and full of meaning.
Although there is nothing life-changing in Sunjeong Manwha, it is a very real film that explores human emotions with honesty – thus a film that will stay with viewers for a while.