Thursday, October 20, 2005

More a Love Story than a Dance Flick

(romantic drama)
GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * ½

INNOCENT STEPS may be perceived by some as South Korea’s version of Strictly Ballroom and Dirty Dancing. At the core of the plot is a national ballroom dancing competition which the protagonists trained for most part of the movie.

However, in a controversial attempt to make the audience weep over the love story, the plot veers towards a near tragedy, leaving a sense of betrayal and a sour taste in our mouth. The ‘Innocent’ in the title probably refers to the elfin-faced Moon Geun-young (the star of My Little Bride), who plays Jang Chae-rin, a young impostor who has come from a small village China to seek fame and fortune in South Korea.

She is to team up with top dance coach Na Young-sae (Park Gun-hyung) as his ‘wife’ and partner in the national ballroom dance contest. Young-sae has been the best dancer in Korea until an accident damaged his knee and his career. He also lost his dance partner and now lives in a crummy apartment where he is content to ‘lick his wounds’.

Things change when Young-sae’s manager arranges a new ‘partner’ for him. She is Jang Chae-min, winner of a dance contest in China, who is supposed to provide Young-sae a new direction in his life. Admittedly, Young-sae is excited to meet the sweet and charming ‘Chae-min’. She is unpretentious and very eager to learn. Then, our hero is hit by a double whammy: The teenager is actually Chae-min’s younger sister Chae-rin — and she has no dancing experience whatsoever! Young-sae’s first reaction is to send her back to China, but he relents and decides to take up the challenge to train her for the competition which is just three months away.

Innocent Steps, directed by Park Young-hoon, is more of a love story than a dance movie like Strictly Ballroom. You won’t see many fanciful dance steps — just a lot of training sequences during which the two start to fall for each other. Still, for most of the 65 minutes or so, the ‘courtship’ is heartwarming, complemented by the comical exploits of a pair of Immigration officers going incognito to spy on the couple.

There is also a nice chemistry between Moon and Park Gun-hyung. The young and innocent-looking Moon readily steals our hearts as the naive girl who gradually turns into a glib dancer, fuelled by her love for her coach. Gun-Hyung seems to have the easier role as her mentor but he is nevertheless convincing as a gruff man with a tender heart. However, all these are spoilt when the film-makers decide to turn the plot into a gangster movie.


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