“Sweet and Sour” is a Korean romantic fantasy that isn’t remotely as cute and clever as those who made it seem to think it is.
It’s a standard-issue “meet cute” romance about a plump nerd who falls hard for the nurse treating him for jaundice (hepatitis B), who falls in love, loses weight, and gets promoted into a job that threatens the relationship that was all he ever wanted out of life.
And then there’s the code, which toys around with the time as a mobius strip, an afterthought that does nothing for what has already been middling and formulaic, if not utterly without charm.
Da-eun (Chae Soo-bin) is an overworked contract nurse who gives endomorphic Jang-hyuk (Jang Ki-Yong) sweet-natured attention, and just a glimmer of hope that she might be interested in him as more than a saffron-colored (jaundice) patient.
He’s slack-jawed and moon-eyed in her presence, a nerd fresh out of engineering school, still living with his parents, with liver damage thanks to his student lifestyle (his constantly-texting pals are also endomorphs).
She’s harder to read. She takes advantage of him, dozes off in his cubicle, wolfs down his food (they’re working her to death) and flirts just enough to keep him on the hook.
Turns out, she is interested. And as they fall in love (a mostly off-camera eventuality), she commits and he is transformed into the sort of lean young hunk he thinks she deserves.
But his first job wins him a transfer from Incheon to Seoul, and right after they’ve moved in together. Paired up with the fellow new transfer Bo-young (Krystal Jung), we can see the sparks long before the characters in the movie do.
She’s manipulative, ambitious, uncouth and unethical. She eats like a pig and wears several meals on her blouse. But their “meet cute” is almost as cute as Jang-hyuk’s original cute meeting. And forced to work together on an, all-consuming bridge design project, their lives become work and the commute “home” to Seoul becomes a grind.
How will this all play out?
The tropes of such romances are pretty close to universal, as this installment in “Around the World with Netflix” demonstrates. His parents are shocked SHOCKED when Jang-hyuk gets his first-ever girlfriend. A night guard at his new firm tries to give him life-balance advice. There’s a ring, patterns of behavior that point to the rut that the “circle of (your) life” can put you in and performances that are more winsome than winning (save for Jung’s sloppy temptress turn as Bo-young).
None of which are quite charming or remotely amusing enough to make this come off. It’s “Sweet,” all right. Just not sweet enough. And the “sour” half doesn’t quite play, either.
The dopey, twisty ending? Let’s not go there, even if they did.
MPA Rating: TV-14, profanity, sexual themes
Cast: Krystal Jung, Jang Ki-Yong, Chae Soo-bin
Credits: Scripted and directed by Kae-Byeok Lee, based on a novel by Kurumi Inui. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:42