The latter film originally interested me because it was the first solo feature directorial of Min Kyu-dong, who had previous co-directed the interesting Memento Mori and I was curious what he would do with such a different kind of movie in genre and style and, in the end, I was relatively pleased with All for Love, but almost more because of the expansive cast's performances than director Min's own touch or the somewhat simplistic stories therein.
And there are a lot of stories woven into this film. We start with theater owner Chairman Gwak (Joo Hyun), an irascible older man who has a bit of a crush on his tenant, middle aged coffee shop proprietor O Yeoin (Oh Mi-hee), who hopes to be an actress. Chairman Gwak is in a bind as he's been given a lucrative offer to invest rebuilding his theater, but would have to kick out his tenants, including Yeoin in order to do so. Then there's Gim Changhu (Im Chang-jung), newly married to Ha Seonae (Seo Young-hee), who hides his massive debt from his loving wife and runs around illegally selling trinkets on the subway to collect the debt, while Seonae worries that they might not be able to afford having the child she discovered she's pregnant with.
Trying to collect on Changhu's debt is former college basketball star Bak Seongwon (Kim Su-ro), who is cajoled with money by writer I (Jeon Hye-jin) into being in a television segment where he spends time with a young terminally ill girl Jina (Kim Yoo-jung), who claims that she's his daughter. Jina's best friend is Jo Jiseok (Lee Byung-joon), who lives with his harsh, lonely music executive father Jo Jaegyeong (Chun Ho-jin), who hires the cheerful caretaker Min Taehyeon (Jin Tae-hyun).
Meanwhile, Jiseok's hot-tempered psychiatrist mother Heo Yujeong (Uhm Jung-hwa) develops an interest in a relatively innocent, but dense, bachelor cop Na Docheol (Hwang Jung-min). Finally, pop singer Yu Jeonghun (Jung Kyung-ho), stressed by a contract dispute with Jaegyeong, ends up with a mental illness and under Yujeong's care, sharing a room with mentally unstable nun-in-training Im Sugyeong (Yoon Jin-seo), who harbors a secret fixation on Jeonghun.
Independently, most of the stories are a bit shallow, the romance between Yujeong and Docheol being inexplicable on the part of Yujeong while Suyeong and Jeonghun as well as Chairman Gwak and Yeoin's stories just barely connect to the others. However, a few of the stories do carry some interesting weight, like the hard luck story of Changhu and Seonae as an examination of the challenge of financial hardship on relationships and there is an interesting, though reserved look at homosexual issues with Jaegyeong. Meanwhile, the manipulative story of Seongwon and Jina still manages to be fairly convincing at least until the end basketball moment--but I like how we get to dig a little deeper into his relationship with Jina's mother, Yeonju (Ha Ji-won).
There's also a really strong moment of intersection between several of the stories when Jina's condition gets worse, leading Jiseok to run away and drawing in both parents, their respective issues as well as Changhu and Seonae. Yes, the resolution at the end is a little tidy and some of the stories are still not terribly compelling at the end, but when you look at the breadth of what's going on and how many of the stories are still at least amusing if not compelling, it's still an appreciable tapestry that's woven.
And much of this is thanks to the efforts of the many first rate performing together. The clash of Uhm Jung-hwa's wordly Yujeong and Hwang Jung-min's strangely innocent Docheol might be obnoxious with lesser actors but both manage to give the two enough personality and chemistry that they still work, even if the writing doesn't quite merit what happens. Similarly the exuberance of Seo Young-hee brings out a lot of charm in Im Chang-jung and Seonae's transformation from joyful to fearful is captivating which Im's face naturally captures Changhu's sadsack nature well. And even as much as I dislike the inherent manipulation of child terminal illness characters in fiction, even little Kim Yoo-jung is cute enough that you can't be too disappointed and can understand how she changes Seongwon.
Director Min mostly keeps it simple and doesn't really add too much of a personal touch, except during the ending basketball sequence which kind of reminds me of the climax of Memento Mori, but does seem to work well with his actors and helps focus on the camera on the actors to let them tell the story. It's a clean, bright production as romantic comedies usually are, but Min smartly brings out cooler and darker looks during the dramatic final act while never losing the polish.
This does help give the film enough zip and Min and company behind the camera keeps the pace well enough that even when the story gets a little weak, we're moved along quickly enough to another story that there's rarely too long of a segment that straight bores. Of course that doesn't excuse All for Love's manipulation plays or just the fact that several of the romances are simply poorly grounded, but we are also watching a film that crams a half dozen stories into a feature film time frame, so in many ways we ought to only expect impressions and windows to stories rather than completely developed ones.
But even being aware of that, some of the romances are so baseless and the situations contrived enough that I was sometimes taken out by the questions that were raised but unanswered. And some moments, like the When Harry Met Sally homage, were simply overdone and on the nose. That all results in All for Love being a fairly fun film, with a couple stories having some interesting observations packed in, but also a somewhat shallow film that comes just short of being all it could be. 7/10