Movie Review: Sweet and Sour (2021)

Sweet and Sour is one of the numerous films that didn’t quite make it into theaters last year. Thanks to Netflix, the film is now available to all – but don’t expect a sweet tale with a cast you’re likely to adore.

Sweet and Sour begins with Da-eun (Chae Soo-bin), an overworked nurse, ministering to a patient with Hepatitis B. Jang Hyuk (Lee Woo-je) is the stereotypical pudgy, dorky, and absolutely enamored guy, who is so adorable and innocent that you can’t help but fall in love with him. You can’t blame him for having a crush on Da-eun because she’s nice, lovely, and just strange enough to keep things interesting. When Jang Hyuk is released, the two remain in contact and soon begin dating.

Their romance is adorable, but mostly not cute because there’s a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right about their story. It feels nearly tangential, but it’s difficult to explain why.

We don’t get what appears to be part two of the story until Da-eun invites Jang Hyuk on a trip to Jeju. Jang Hyuk is sprinting towards her in their new pair of sneakers at the airport, pledging to lose weight and be fantastic… Then the interesting bit started – we switch actors to Jang Ki-yong, presumably playing Jang-hyuk with a lot of weight off and a lot more hotness. It’s a similar bodily metamorphosis to the infamous one in An Empress’s Dignity, and it perplexes me just as much.

We’ll keep an eye on these two and their connection in the future when Jang-hyuk is promoted from his Incheon office to a more prestigious post in Seoul. It’s here that he meets Bo-young (Krystal Jung), and the end begins. They start at odds, but that’s merely a figment of their imagination. Jang-hyuk resists it for as long as he can, but they eventually become a hardworking pair of temps at work, collaborating all day and half the night, putting in countless hours — and becoming far too close. It’s difficult to determine if Bo-young is the trigger for change in Jang-hyuk and Da-eun’s relationship, or if it was meant to happen anyway, and she was just the excuse. But for every squabble and dull moment between Jang-hyuk and Da-eun, there’s a new, energizing one between Jang-hyuk and Bo-young.

The film’s closing nine minutes or so contain the film’s punchline (and, if you will, its entire purpose). With a ring in hand, our hero appears to recognize the folly of his actions and hurries back to the woman he abandoned. Will this film, like so many others before it, finish in a cliffhanger? Reunion at the airport, confession, and kiss? In a nutshell, yes and no. Our hero rushes to the airport to reconnect with Da-eun, who he discovers is on her way to Jeju, but what he discovers there is a more subversive twist than a joyful conclusion.

The sour aftertaste doesn’t go away fast, either, and I found myself looking for a way to close on a more positive note. Was it because the woman Jang-hyuk loved/abandoned picked a devoted puppy over him that he got what he deserved? Was it because Da-eun was frightened of being alone, even though her long-term relationship had just ended, that she pounced on someone who was head over heels in love with her? Or was she seeking solace from him in the aftermath of her abortion and breakup? Perhaps it was merely a comment on post-modern relationships.

While any or all of these arguments may make sense analytically, none of them help me understand why I watched this film or what I’m expected to take away from it. I wanted to question why Jang-hyuk never mentioned to anyone about his relationship with Da-eun, or why the security guard always switch off the lights every single night when there’s clearly employees still working overtime. It still bothers me but I think Sweet and Sour is a film that’s not particularly fond of sweetness. Instead, after enticing us in with the sweet – it focuses on the sour.

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