What makes Backpack Romance-Comedies so fun to watch is its vibrancy in camouflaging into so many things all at once—we get a love story, a free travel-pass, cultural know-how’s, picture-perfect sceneries, gastronomic do’s and don’ts, a dash of drama and tons of cute—jumbled altogether in one movie.
The 2010 Thai Film, Hello Stranger (Kuan Meun Ho), effortlessly joins the list of good films under this genre. It’s a light and breezy watch, well-acted by its charmingly offbeat characters and is hitting all the right notes in a classic boy-meets-girl-in-a-chance-encounter story set in Korea. Like a roundtrip ticket, I knew very well I’m bound for one heck of a crazy ride and I hopped in, anyways, and didn’t regret it. Hello Stranger refreshingly rekindles how some of the most heartbreaking things in life can be some of the most heart-warming memories, too.
The plot, of course, opens once-upon a time in an airport where we get to see the main leads and a brief sneak peek into the lives they are temporarily leaving behind. A guy, fresh from a hang-over, headed down towards a group of fellow tourists, wearing only a plain T-shirt, cargo shorts and unflattering slippers. On the other hand: a girl, having been dropped off by her overly manipulative boyfriend, walked in shadily after she waved him goodbye with what we can only tell as an outright lie.The bickering starts even before they get inside the airplane and lingered on until they continuously met on certain instances in Seoul, Korea, their destination.
Here’s the fun part: I loved how the film is structured by meta-references with the ever-popular Korean Drama wave which hit all over Asia for the last couple of years. The film displayed numerous drama locations which eventually became tourists’ hotspots, like settings for Jewel in the Palace, Winter Sonata, Coffee Prince and My Sassy Girl. I especially loved the contrast of the girl’s shameless obsession with documenting her trip as opposed to the guys annoyed nonchalance about everyone getting so hooked with these shows. This irony between their identities served a good job complimenting their conflict at the latter part of the film.
I also immensely enjoyed how the trip delightfully showcased the distinguishing traditions and the quirks of Korea, from exotic raw foods (Seriously, a live octopus?) down to cheesy couple shirts. All throughout, it provided a wonderful backdrop to their blossoming friendship which started with none other than the infamous Soju—the notorious green-bottled alcohol they drink all the time in dramas!
Faithful and literal to its title, the two remained strangers for the duration of their trip by agreeing not to know each other’s names. This premise made the film unique in its own way from every other Backpack Rom-Coms, because even the audience weren’t spared from the secret. How awesome is a movie where the two lone characters don’t have names? From my opinion, it worked, because just like them, we were drawn to focus not on who they are but on the little things that made them the way they are.
Their honesty is also a breath of fresh air from the usual plotlines that other films of this genre commonly use. They are so frank and open with one another that the girl can conveniently stand naked in the snow without worrying that he might peek, and the guy could outright ask her whether she likes him or not, onboard a train cramped with passengers hearing their conversation. They can even share a room and a bed together, minus all the awkwardness! I think their anonymity and the fact that they are on a foreign country with no one understanding a word they say gave them the freedom to make complete goofball of themselves without worrying for embarrassment, and boy, was it fun! Props to Director Banjong Pisanthanak, who previously worked on Shutter, the only horror film which scared me genuinely.
That’s why, if you’ll ask me what my favourite thing about this movie is, I’d say it’s the heartfelt chemistry of the characters. Chantawich Tanasewi and Nuengtida Sopon looked so good together and watching them left me smiling with a geeky grin on my face all throughout. Laughter is guaranteed in huge doses, too. There were a lot of good moments not because they’re being overly sweet but because they’re enjoying every moment together and their joy is so contagious onscreen that you find yourself enjoying too, like you’re with them, like you’ve known them for so long, which was how they basically felt with each other and is ironic because they don’t even know each other’s names.
The reversal in their personalities had also been heartbreaking: towards their departure for Thailand, her notions about the fantasies of love and happily-ever-afters were toned down by the pessimistic fear of heartbreak, while his cynicism about romance has dwindled down because he is finally starting to embrace the chance to get to know someone again after a long time.
Of course, the movie has its weaknesses; there’s nothing groundbreakingly original in its plot and I thought the conflict towards its climax at the end became rather predictable and short of the punch I was expecting to be delivered, considering how well the pace was sustained. Nevertheless, I was delighted that the movie ended unconventionally— that although it was poking fun at Korean dramas for being so rose-colored about love and ultimately realized why and resembled it a little at the end, the movie deviated from being a copycat of one. It ended better than my imagination—sweet but not saccharine; just the way I like my good old romantic movies.
Hello Stranger made me revisit my dreams of finding true love at some random city in the world—to experience how lovely it is to travel with someone who loves you not for your face, your name or your past—but for what makes you the quirky you.
To my friend Ira who suggested this one: It’s ironic how you of all persons would be my source for romance comedies. Lol. Thanks for this one. :))