As the United States’ modern style of filmmaking continues its one-size-fits-all mission, South Korea’s last few decades include some astonishingly introspective works. And whereas Parasite examined classism and the myth of rising, so does Sweet & Sour explore the toxic work culture holding urban quality of life hostage—though to be clear, we’re not looking at a Bong Joon-ho masterclass here.
And hell, that’s okay.
As Jang-hyuk (Jang Ki-yong) recovers from hepatitis after a hospital stint, he develops a sweet rapport with his nurse, Da-eun (Chae Soo-bin). Their interplay is so cute and cuddly one might think they’re in the whimsical world of Wes Anderson’s lesser-known cousin, and it’s love that inspires Hyuk to improve his life, which in turn provides him with his dream job. But alas, as the rules of rom-com-drama demand, the relationship becomes strained under life’s new demands.
Sweet & Sour’s plot is tried and true, but here there’s authenticity from director Kae-Byeok Lee. Frantic editing and let’s-get-going pacing will surely try unacquainted American viewers, but it’s a great reflection of South Korea in the eyes of a Westerner—a nation bristling with energy that makes American infrastructure look like we build with sandcastle buckets.
Lee stays dedicated to his themes (with a clever or infuriating plot twist, depending on you), which hauls Sweet & Sour from cutesy moment to cutesy moment, only with stuff to say. Workaholic culture isn’t merely an attack on an individual’s time, but an attack on family life—a consistent gaslighting of young people that encourages them to wreck their personal lives for the sake of vague and un-promised notions of success.
If you’ve recently had a bad breakup with work or relationship drama holds you hostage, beware of Sweet & Sour. It’s a safe watch if you’re in a good headspace, however—funny, frantic, sweet and subtly philosophical. This is far from arthouse cinema, but some of us want to be spoon-fed good-ish feelings from time to time. (Riley Gardner)
+ High energy, flashy and safe
- Often a little too familiar
Sweet & Sour
Directed by Kae-Byeok Lee
With Jang and Chae
Netflix, NR, 101 min