From left, Kim Min-hee, Lee Mee-sook and Ahn So-hee in the romantic comedy "Hellcats"
By Lee Hyo-won
Puberty, angst-ridden youth and menopause, first kisses, marriage and a Demi Moore-Ashton Kutcher-type romance. Director Kwon Chil-in dishes out an endearingly off-key romantic comedy ``Hellcats'' as he traces the lives and loves of three ladies at different stages of womanhood.
While the particular age of these ladies is their defining trait, the movie is no Klimt painting mapping out the ``Three Ages of Woman.''
It's a classic commercial flick that boasts mass appeal with its tactful casting, trend-spotting ploys and elements of fantasy. But there are nevertheless pleasant surprises that fill in for the holes of the loosely structured script, making it rather believable and even slightly touching.
First off, the movie unfolds, out of all places, in a crumby, third-rate motel room. In her less-than-fortunate ``office,'' 27-year Ah-mi (Kim Min-hee) spends her birthday typing away the 17th draft of a hellish movie script she's been working on for the past two years, while the pitiful director is napping away in the corner. But chances of the work going into production are slim.
At home, she's a parasitic existence, with her older sister and niece constantly nagging her to move out. Meanwhile, her longtime boyfriend, a penniless aspiring musician, has no plans to settle down, and to top it off he gets caught in bed with another woman.
But then a Mr. Perfect comes along, and Ah-mi must come to terms with herself as she half-heartedly tries to give up her deadweight of a job and boyfriend.
Meanwhile, Ah-mi's older sister Yeong-mi (Lee Mee-sook) is a 41-year-old single mom with a well-established career as an interior designer. She has a fling with an actor 12 years her junior, but when she tries to end it coolly as a one-night stand, menopause hits. While she casually dismisses it as ``a liberation from menstrual cramps,'' she is hurting inside, and accepts her young lover's advances in a desperate attempt to defend her womanhood.
Yeong-mi's teenage daughter Gang-ae (Ahn So-hee) has her own dilemmas. Her boyfriend of three years still hasn't kissed her yet, and she grows increasingly frustrated. Her best friend Mi-ran, a Brazilian-born girl with an ``exotic'' flair, coaches Gang-ae in the art of seduction. But she becomes even more confused as the two become a little too intimate.
The most successful part of the film is the casting. Popular model/actress Kim comes back on the big screen after a six-year hiatus, and ``Hellcats'' showcases her hidden talents. She gives a compelling performance as a young woman agonizing over her insecure career and shaky romance, and you become truly concerned with her drunken rambling.
Lee, who showed her foxy side as a seductive temptress in ``Untold Scandal'' (2005), is perfect for the role of a sexy older woman.
In her acting debut, Ahn, from the popular girl band Wonder Girls, is slightly awkward but is quite befitting for the role of an irritable teenager.
In contrast to the lively heroines, however, the supporting male characters are more like chiseled Greek statues ― flawless and inanimate narrative elements. Ah-mi's eligible bachelor has a steady job, big heart and handsome looks ― in other words, a safety blanket our protagonist can conveniently take or cast off.
Yeong-mi's younger man, much too ready to commit and eager to please, only exists to show audiences that she is no asexual mom but an attractive woman. And it's unfortunate that there is no chemistry between the two. Gang-ae's boyfriend, while adorable, isn't much more than a transportation device with a motorcycle
Some may see the film to be a wishy-washy spin-off of the director's hit film ``Singles'' (2003), but ``Hellcats'' can, in Western parlance, be described as a stretch of ``Sex and the City.'' The trio is more like three roommates rather than a family.
``Women have three secrets they should never reveal: flings, wrinkles and their true feelings,'' says Ah-mi. And the three ladies endorse these rules, keeping secrets from one another.
Just as the four New Yorkers of the HBO TV series get together once in a while to update one another at a fashionable brunch, only occasionally do the trio offer one another advice over wine and a bag of potato chips in the living room. The comments are biting, but far from being brutally honest; most of the true dialogue is with oneself.
These ladies are so-called hellcats not because they're trained in manipulating men. Rather, they are engaged in fierce personal battles with themselves, and this is what makes the film agreeably off-key. It would have been a drag to see another movie about three chicks bonded with some sort of fluffy sorority spirit.