Intimate Strangers (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A dinner game gone wrong

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South Korean “Intimate Strangers” is an amusing comedy film about secrets and lies exposed via a dinner game gone wrong. As cheerfully pushing its main characters into more troubles and embarrassments, the movie generates a number of humorous moments which did make me and other audiences around me laugh and chuckle last evening, but then it takes a sudden plot turn around its finale, and it is a shame to see how that unfortunately mars its comic momentum which has been steadily built up to that narrative point.

The main background of the movie is a posh modern apartment located somewhere in Seoul, which is owned by Seok-ho (Cho Jin-woong) and his wife Ye-jin (Kim Ji-soo). While Seok-ho is a plastic surgeon, Ye-jin works as a psychiatrist, and they look mostly happy on the surface, but we observe some tension between them and their young daughter, who comes to clash with her mother after her mother finds a certain object in her bag.

Anyway, Seok-ho and Ye-jin are very busy with preparing for their housewarming dinner party, and we soon see the arrival of their guests who also have been close friends to them for many years. They are Tae-so (Yoo Hae-jin) and his wife Soo-hyun (Yum Jung-ah); Joon-mo (Lee Seo-jin) and his wife Se-kyung (Song Ha-yoon); and Young-bae (Yoon Kyung-ho), who comes alone although he has been in a relationship with someone since his recent divorce.

Once everyone sits on the table, the dishes prepared by Seok-ho and Ye-jin are served one by one, and the mood becomes quite cheerful and pleasant as they and others continue to talk with each other, but then one of them suggests that they should do something for more amusement. All they have to do is placing their respective smartphones on the table and then sharing all the text messages and phone calls received during their dinner, and everyone agrees to do that because, well, they do not want to look like they are hiding something.

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When they start the game, it seems frivolous at first, but, of course, it is turned into something more serious step by step. Whenever a phone call or text message arrives, the mood becomes more uncomfortable than before, and everyone comes to find their respective personal relationships tested more seriously than they ever imagined.

As we become more aware of what is being at stake for everyone at the table, the movie continues to increase its comic momentum along with more hilarity. Whenever one uncomfortable moment is resolved, there soon comes another one, and we cannot help but amused by this absurdity while occasionally cringing at several very awkward moments among its main characters.

Although I cannot go into details because I do not want to spoil your entertainment, I think I can tell you a bit about some of funny scenes in the film. While I enjoyed an early small moment which functions as a sort of false alarm, I was also tickled by one particular scene involved with the occupation of one of the main characters, and I must confess that I laughed loud along with other audiences while watching how one certain sneaky tactic leads to an increasingly hysterical moment of deception and misunderstanding.

Under director Lee Jae-kyoo’s competent direction, the movie keeps things rolling within its limited space during most of its running time. Thanks to cinematographer Kim Sung-an’s fluid camerawork, the movie seldom feels stuffy or claustrophobic, and the score by Mowg is also effective along with a certain famous pop song which is used more than once in the film.

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Above all, the movie depends a lot on the talent of its main cast members, whose smooth ensemble performance is inarguably the best thing in the film. While Cho Jin-woong and Yoo Hae-jin, who have been two of the most dependable actors in South Korea during recent years, did a good job of handling their numerous comic moments, Lee Seo-jin and Yoon Kyung-ho are equally fine in their respective roles. In opposite to their male co-performers, Kim Ji-soo, Yum Jung-ah, and Song-ha Yoon hold their own places well, and you may also be entertained by the voice performances provided by a number of notable South Korean performers including Ji Woo, who briefly appears on the screen as Seok-ho and Ye-jin’s daughter.

While I appreciated its several good things, I also noticed some glaring flaws in the film including its very contrived finale, which made me baffled and then dissatisfied a lot. Instead of pushing its story and characters further, the movie instead chooses to retreat from what has been so far revealed in front of us and its main characters, and that is quite disappointing to say the least.

I forgot to tell you that the movie is a remake version of Italian film “Perfect Strangers” (2016), which was already remade in Greece, Spain, Turkey, India, and France and will also be remade in Qatar, Germany, Sweden, and, possibly, US. I have not watched yet the original version or other remake versions, but I can tell you at least that “Intimate Strangers” will give you a fair share of fun, and, considering the active reactions from the audiences around me, you may be more satisfied than me.

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