New for me
One of my early favorites during my exploration of Korean cinema was Failan, directed by Song Haesung, and I also found myself appreciating his later film, Maundy Thursday. Given my tendency to follow the creative works of directors, then it was expected that, once I found a copy of his first feature, Calla, that I would purchase a copy and check it out. My anticipation was heightened due to the largely positive reception by its rating on the internet, but after watching the film, while I saw some interesting elements to the direction and the premise of the film is a good idea, the execution of the film, especially as far as the writing and the performances goes, was lacking to the point of frustrating me and I found myself yelling at the screen is disbelief, which is never a good sign of immersion in a film. That's not to say that there aren't interesting elements to this film, but overall, I was not amused.
At the start of the movie, we see a terrible hostage situation take place where Jihee (Kim Heesun) and maybe also her captor, Jung Minwook (Choi Chulho) are killed, right in front of Sunwoo (Song Seunghun), who clearly has an affection for Jihee. Flashing back, Sunwoo, an artist, has been finding the titular calla flower laid upon his desk every morning, followed by a phone call which would only play some music, clearly from an admirer of his. And then he spots Jihee on the bus and is immediately captivated by her forlorn beauty, only to soon discover that she works at a nearby flower shop with her employee Soojin (Kim Hyunjoo). Believing Jihee to be his "flower girl", he makes a confession and sets up a date at the Plaza Hotel, where we then see the events of beginning of the film take place. And for three years, Sunwoo mourns the loss of Jihee, but on one fateful elevator trip in the Plaza Hotel, he wishes to go back in time and prevent what happened, and finds himself on the night before Jihee's murder. But as he tries to prevent the murder, he discovers that things were not as they appeared.
I really like the premise of the film, the use of time travel as a way of discovering hidden truths to the situation you thought you witnessed, as well as the interesting way that the film crossed the thriller and romance genres effectively with its fantasy plot. As with most time travel films, not everything adds up, but I'm willing to forgive that. What doesn't add up is how poorly the film sets up what's going on with the characters and the completely idiotic decisions that many of them make, especially our primary protagonist, Sunwoo, who, armed with a knowledge of the past, completely fails to use common sense to either warn Jihee about her fate or stop Minwook from executing his crime. One of these sudden grabs includes Sunwoo calling his detective friend, which we didn't even know existed, to capture Minwoo, taking his gun, and somehow still having his gun and not sought out by the police after getting beaten down and put in a hospital. Plot holes everywhere. But that's not all, there is a parallel story that the film introduces involving Jihee's coworker, Soojin, which involves a twist that was rather obvious from the setup of the film (at least to me, I saw it coming a mile away). If you even had a clue that this twist occurred or even after it's revealed, the film spends a large block of time detailing what anyone who was watching can have easily assumed happened and bogs down in the detail, which completely lacks any narrative drive and meaningful conflict, also pulling away from Sunwoo's narrative for far too long.
Of course, all this is made even harder to swallow because of the uneven performances, especially from the wooden Kim Heesun and the overacting of Choi Chulho, who mugs and hams and emotes like he doesn't believe anything else will get across his character's bad attitude. Song Seunghun suffered from having a character that made some rather irrational decisions, but even so wasn't fully able to convince in all of his scenes, leaving the Kim Hyunjoo's mousy Soojin as the most believable of the characters and having the most chemistry with the other actors. And some of this might be as a result of Song's perhaps forced acting direction, which might match his more interesting stylistic choices he shows off from the opening of the film, using a slow motion stutter frame effect. The film mostly calms down from there in terms of style, but I did find Song's visual direction fairly strong, even if his management of story was befuddling. And, aside from the movie's lead diegetic song, I found the music to be a bit on the cheap piano score side as well, which seems to be a weakness for many films from this era of Korean filmmaking.
What bothers me most about Calla is that there is a really good idea in the film's premise and with better storywriting and storytelling, that idea could have been highly entertaining, especially combined with Song's demonstrated visual capacity. But the story suffers far too much from immense plot holes and seemingly enforced character stupidity, as well as simply being too obvious. Combine that with less than effective performances from most of the cast and my suspension of disbelief was quickly dispatched in the film. Now, that's not to say that everyone will have these problems, because the film rates relatively well at online movie databases, especially in Korea, so perhaps other people don't see these flaws or are captivated enough by the premise and/or actors. But, even knowing nothing about the film going in, I found the collapse of the film's great premise to be quite disappointing and can't recommend this film as a result. 5/10.