Rules of Dating opens with an incredibly sexist and funny scene. The film establishes itself as a sexual harassment comedy with that opening scene–it doesn’t keep that genre long (though I think it’s the first time I ever thought of calling a film a sexual harassment comedy), but that opening also has quick edits, jump cuts, and lots of Steadicam one and two shots, giving it the neo-cinema verite look. It’s off-putting, while not poorly done, because the film can never decide how seriously it wants to be taken….
Soon, it becomes a drama and it stays a drama for most of the remainder, veering occasionally into romance but never too much. In the end–before the emotionally invalidating epilogue–the film comfortably assumes a sexual harassment drama classification. After sitting through the first act, before the romance between the harasser and victim, this conclusion is somewhat welcome. It’s unexpected surprise, because Rules of Dating is particularly deep. The male “protagonist” goes from being a sleaze to being a romantic hero. The female lead, played by Kang Hye-jeong is excellent (continuing the Korean tradition of actresses playing characters older than they are, something America hasn’t got much apparent interest in doing). The guy’s all right. As the comedic sleaze and the romantic hero, he’s good, but when he’s being the sleazy sleaze and the drama guy, not so good. Both these characters have significant others who, toward the end–after the leads spend ninety minutes either cheating on or thinking about cheating on them with no guilt–are revealed to be rather shitty people, simplifying the audience’s emotions.
In the end, Rules of Dating has the opportunity to be incredibly complex, then flushes all down the toilet to provide a happy ending. This happy ending, of course, was not in the film’s “contract” with the viewer. After the first fifteen or so minutes, after the first time the guy tries to force himself on the woman, any happy ending expectation disappeared. Since it was well-acted (enough) and the direction was nice–I think it’s the first Korean Panavision film I’ve seen and the director knew how to use the wide frame–I was incredibly hopeful. But… there were about seven minutes and it’s hard to crap something up in seven minutes, but managed to do it. Without a surprise ending even. Just a dumb one.
For a movie about teachers, there were no scenes in a classroom for ninety minutes, maybe a hundred. That omission should have told me more about how Rules of Dating was going to turn out than it did.