The first time I saw "Joy of love" (2004), I was awe-struck! This internet short film is so sophisticated, so polished, so slick (in the best sense) that I could not believe it is the work of a relatively young Korean director E J-Yong (of "Untold Scandal" fame.) I've since watched it many times, and every time I marvel at what a flawless little gem it is!
It starts traditionally enough in a darkened cinema, where the male and female protagonists "meet" without contact. They both happen to be watching a French movie, separately. If you pay attention to the French dialogue, you'll see it is about the break-up of a relationship. The woman is leaving the man; she says she doesn't love him and she is now very happy with another man. The man's parting words to her are: "You're making a mistake!"
Scene 2 finds the man accessing some kind of online dating service. Everything is very high-tech. He types in MEMBER and the computer does a biometric verification of his iris (which is unique in every individual) and his ID is displayed on the computer -- TRAVIS 1984 (year of birth?). He then makes his selection --PREVIOUS SELECTION (so they've met before), and chooses the meeting time and place -- 2010.10.15 9 p.m. Cafe #5. Suddenly you realize this is set in the future! Viola! He then downloads an 8-pronged gadget that he sticks to the nape of his neck. The computer announces he has three more times left (out of ten), so he's a regular customer.
Scene 3 shows the man arriving at the cafe. He is now dressed in a black suit and white shirt (no tie.) He sits at the bar to wait for his date. He touches NOTHING in front of him and a MENU appears in the air. He selects his coffee which also seems to appear out of the blue. He looks at his watch which is invisible until he touches his wrist -- it shows 9:01 p.m. A woman in a black pant suit appears and almost walks past the man when the gadgets on the respective napes of their necks "recognize" one another. The man and the woman greet each other like lovers. She drinks his coffee without asking and tells him she thinks of him a lot. Then they leave to go to dinner and she puts her arm in his in the most familiar manner.
A few shots of night scenes follow and in scene 4 they are in bed (presumably they spend the night together in a hotel room.) The man is just waking up from a nightmare. He presses a button and the scene at the window changes from darkness to light. The woman wakes and yawns, and the man tells her he dreams last night that she's leaving him. The woman laughs and says: "That's why you have to be good to me while I'm around. It starts with "I love you", but one "Goodbye" and it's over." And then: "Know what I like best? Spending a Sunday afternoon like this -- lazing in bed with my lover." Then they embrace and kiss -- just like any lovers.
Scene 5 is again set at the cafe. They are talking about love and death. The man says he would like to die in his lover's arms, to which the woman replies it's not fair to die and leave your lover behind. But how to die at the same time? The woman says the best thing is to die on the same day in their 60s. The man says he wants to meet the woman who would die with him and the woman pretends to be offended. Just the usual lovers' banter. Suddenly the gadgets at the nape of their necks flash red. The expression on their faces changes radically, suddenly becoming cold and uncaring. They don't even look at each other. They are like two complete strangers. The man just gets up and leaves (without a goodbye) and the woman doesn't care at all. The last lingering shot of the woman's face depicts utter boredom and indifference.
That's the end as far as the story is concerned. This short film closes with a return to the online dating service whose logo is a red heart flanked by a triangle on the left and a square on the right, with the words:
The service for those who have suffered the pain of love
Experience only the joy of loveWould you like to enter?
Then the very beautiful music comes on and the credits start rolling. The actors are on stage barely 9 minutes (superb editing!) and the whole short film is 11:10 minutes, including the music and credits at the end.
My reaction after watching "Joy of love":
1. Gosh! What a cleverly devised and deftly executed little film!
2. Wow! JHJ is so breathtakingly handsome (with or without clothes)! He is "prettier" than the actress Lee So Yun.
3. He has such fine skin -- the face, the neck, the upper body.
4. What an ironic statement on human relationship!
5. Is this the "brave new world" of the future?
The title is of course ironic. The "joy" is unreal -- bought and manufactured, a temporary respite from the pain of life. "Love" is non-existent. The relationship between the man and the woman is physical, sexual, and temporary. Is this what the future holds for men and women? For those who have been hurt in love, the solution is NOT to enter into a serious relationship again. Instead there is no harm in make-believe. You get a night and a day of erotic ecstasy. If you're satisfied, you can try it again (with the same partner) next time. If you're not satisfied, you can always pick a different type. It's all just a commercial transaction. And then I'm suddenly seized with a horrible thought -- what's the difference between this and a call girl service?
If this is a conventional dating service (as in our world today), the man and the woman might find they have some things in common. For one thing, they both like French films. For another, they have similar tastes in clothes -- both dressed in black suits.
The most disturbing thing in this little film is the abrupt end to the relationship. Two people engaged in such an intimate conversation suddenly breaks off and behave as if the other is transparent. They become cold and stiff and indifferent -- the man just leaves and the woman doesn't even cast him a glance. Everything that happens the night before means nothing -- just a pastime. Where is the love? Where is the joy?
Jo Hyun-Jae was barely 24 when this internet short film was made. He plays Travis to perfection here. Every move, every word, every look speaks volumes. I've seen a behind-the-scenes short film on the making of "Joy of love", and I'm very impressed by the meticulous way they rehearse for each and every scene (though only a couple of minutes in the finished format.)
I love "Joy of love" (if only because it shows a half-naked JHJ! Just kidding!) I enjoy watching it, and it makes me think afterwards. How many Korean dramas, and, for that matter, any movie in any language, can do that?