Guest Film Review: Architecture 101 (건축학개론)

Nicole’s Introduction:

Hello everyone! 여러분 안녕하세요? My name is Nicole Angelucci and today I am writing as a guest blogger on Cindy’s wonderful blog! 제 이름은 앤잴루치니콜이라고요 신디 블로그의 게스트 블로거입니다. I’m going to talk about Reel Asian Film Festival; specifically I will be talking about Architecture 101. 저는 리얼 아이션 영화제에 대한 말씀을 드리겠는데, 특히 “건축학개론”에 대한 말씀을 드리고 자합니다.

Overview of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival:

When I first arrived at The Royal I was surprised to see people lined up and down the street waiting to get in to see Architecture 101 (건축학개론). I really didn’t know where I needed to go, but the volunteers were so helpful and kind! They were passing out surveys but they were willing to help anyone and explain whatever needed explaining.

It was really quite interesting to see so many people lined up for this Korean film. As I was waiting in line I heard some Koreans say things like “와~ 깜짝 놀랐어!” (Wow I’m so surprised!) and “사람이 진짜 많아” (There are really so many people).

Finally, we got into the theatre. It was stated on the website that there would be some small awards ceremony before the film, but I had assumed it would start before the set film time (8:15pm) – however, they started the awards ceremony at 8:15pm. I was a little annoyed only because I was tired and I really wanted to watch the film.

It was definitely really organized, though. They announced that, although tonight was the closing ceremony, they are having another festival next week in Richmond Hill, where they will show a montage of films from Hong Kong, Tawaiin, Japan, and Canada.

Director Yong-ju Lee (이용주 감독님) was in attendance for the film. Director Lee is the director of Architecture 101 (건축학개론). I will talk about Director Lee a little later on, as I got to meet him and actually talk with him. However, he did speak before the film, saying that he was honoured to have his film chosen for the closing ceremony.

Courtesy of Reel Asian

Overview of the Movie – What’s it About?

The main theme of Architecture 101 (건축학개론) seems to be first love (첫 사랑).

This film features Miss A’s Suzy Bae (배수지) as Seo-Yeon Yang (양서연) in the past, and Ga-in Han (한가인), who was on an episode of the popular new variety show Running Man, as Seo-yeon in the present. The male protagonist – Seung-min Lee (이승민) is played by Je-Hoon Lee (이제훈) in the past and Tae-Woong Uhm (엄태웅) in the present.

The film was directed by Yong-ju Lee (이용주), who was in an attendance at the festival.

I’ve actually watched Architecture101 (건축학개론) before, without subtitles, which was extremely difficult for me. However, I wanted to watch this film ever since I first watched the trailer before its release in Korea. I decided that watching it without subtitles would be a great way to practice my Korean while simultaneously enjoying a wonderful film – kill two birds with one stone –일석이조라더라. 

Since Cindy traveled to New Jersey for the Big Bang (빅뱅) concert (which I really wanted to go to as well!! ㅠ.ㅠ) she asked if another Torontonian friend would be willing to write up this movie review for her, and so here I am! I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to 1) see Architecture 101 (건축학개론) again; 2) practice my Korean; and 3) write on Cindy’s blog! But my point is – that’s how awesome this movie is! I totally had to see it again. You will laugh and cry along with the characters as you watch this film. I strongly believe that everyone can relate to it in some way.

Also, if you grew up in the nineties, especially in Korea in the nineties, then you can relate really well to this movie and feel nostalgia. The characters use landlines – with chords! Walkmans, and record players. There’s not a single laptop, Iphone, Samsung Galaxy, or any other fancy technology. In fact, there’s just an old desktop with 1GB of memory – I think this is something only people who experienced life in the nineties can appreciate about the film. I found it nostalgic.


Seo-yeon Lee (이서연)

Seo-yeon Lee is the female protagonist of the film. There are both past and present versions of her, as well as the male protagonist.

Seo-yeon was a music-major in college but took Architecture 101 because she like Jae-wook-oppa – a boy from one of her after school clubs who majored in architecture. She admits to Seung-min (who becomes her good friend) that she thinks Jae-wook is handsome and she thinks majoring in architecture is cool.

Seo-yeon was born in Jeju-do, but moved for college. Her mother passed away when she was young, so she lived with her father on Jeju Island. She says her birthday is November 11 (일일일일), which is also pepero day (빼빼로데이) in Korea.

She has a talent for playing the piano but says she does not wish to be a pianist. She wants to be an announcer.

We find out that, in the present, she failed at becoming an announcer. She was married for three years but then separated a month before re-visiting Seung-min – she held on as long as she could to get enough money from him to re-build her father’s house on Jeju Island. Her father is ill in the hospital and only has one or two years left. She wishes to live with him in that house until he dies.

Seung-min Lee (이승민)

Seung-min Lee is a first-year-architecture-major at the same university as Seo-yeon. He notices they live in the same neighbourhood and take the same route to and from school. He accidentally runs into her and they get to talking. Their friendship escalates throughout the movie and it becomes obvious that Seung-min is developing feelings for Seo-yeon.

Seung-min lives with his mom – his dad passed away when he was young – this is something the two have in common and so they can properly understand each other’s feelings and situation – 동병상련인사람으로서.

Seung-min is not rich but he has a very big heart. He promises Seo-yeon two things – 1) to meet on the day of the first snowfall, and 2) to build her dream house for her.

In the present he is an architect. When Seo-yeon finds him he hesitantly agrees to help build her house. But his feelings seem to flow back the more time he spends with her. This is a problem since he is engaged to the female with whom he works – Eun-chae (은채). Their plans are to get married at the end of the year and travel together to the U.S., where Seung-min will find a job and they’ll settle down.

Jae-Wook (재욱)

Played by Yeon-seok Yoo (유 연석), Jae-wook appears to be Seung-min’s friend but is also his rival for love with Seo-yeon. He is seonbae (선배) to both Seung-min and Seo-yeon and appears to be a player. Seo-yeon says that every girl in the club has a crush on him, and why shouldn’t they? He’s handsome, smart, and rich.

Jae-wook tries to seduce Seo-yeon throughout the film – and it is left up to the viewers’ discretion whether or not something more happened on the night he brought her home drunk.

Nab-ddeuk (납뜩)

Played by Jung-suk Jo (조정석), Nab-ddeuk is Seung-min’s best friend. He’s repeating his last year of high school and also appears to be a player. He talks about having two girlfriends, one who, he claims, is in ninth grade.

Nab-ddeuk is really the comic relief for this film. He is silly, funny, and a typical high school male. He doesn’t concentrate all that much on school; his main priority is getting girls and having a good time. He smokes, he uses hair products, and he tries to “teach” Seung-min how to woo Seo-yeon.

Personally, despite Nab-ddeuk’s male-chauvinist exterior, I found myself really appreciating the fact that he seems to really care about Seung-min. He is always there to listen to Seung-min and offer advice – no matter how bad or silly the advice is – and he is there to comfort Seung-min, too. 


So I really don’t know how to explain this movie without getting carried away and giving away every detail of the movie, because it’s so great that I just can’t ever shut up about it! But I will try, so here I go:

Basically, Seo-yeon returns to her father’s old house on Jeju Island and decides she wants to rebuild it for him. She remembers a promise from a friend – Seung-min – back in first year of college and she reminisces about him, finally deciding to find him and ask him to build her house.

When she finds him he says he can’t remember her, but when he does he wonders aloud why she sought him out to build her house. She says “because you promised me back in first year, remember?” It’s not until the end of the movie that she admits to wondering how he was doing and wanting to see him again, since it had been so long.

The movie flits back and forth between past and present as we learn about Seo-yeon and Seung-min’s relationship and lives.

They were first loves, though neither of them ever admitted it to the other. We watch Jae-wook desperately try to woo Seo-yeon and later take advantage of a drunken Seo-yeon, while Seung-min watches from behind the building where she lives. He has built a model of the house she wishes to live in, but as he watches his “friend” Jae-wook lead her into the house, he has a feeling he knows what will happen, and he throws the model in the garbage. Seo-yeon finds it in the morning, and secretly keeps it all these years.

When Seo-yeon and Seung-min are first getting to know each other, Seo-yeon shows him “Exhibition”, her favourite album. They listen to it together on a walkman, and she eventually loans it to him. After seeing her with Jae-wook, however, Seung-min stops replying to Seo-yeon’s messages, and when she waits for him outside of the school, he returns the CD, saying he can’t listen to it due to not owning a CD Player, and asks her to get out of his life. She returns to the first abandoned house they went to together on the day of the first snow, since they promised to meet then, but when he fails to show up she leaves the CD and walkman there.

Each time Seung-min is unsure what to do he goes to his best friend Nab-ddeuk – who offers sometimes horrid advice. When Seung-min tells Nab-ddeuk that he kissed Seo-yeon while she was sleeping on his shoulder, Nab-ddeuk stands up, flustered and asks “그게 키스야?” (you think that’s a kiss?). This is followed by an elaborate display of flashy hand movements, swear words, and odd metaphors all in an attempt to explain what a real kiss is to Seung-min. It’s quite funny.

Moving to the present, we learn that Seung-min is indeed an architect. He is engaged to Eun-chae (은채), a female with whom he works. Their plans are to move to the U.S. after getting married at the end of the year. Seo-yeon was married and then divorced. Her father is in the hospital and she needs to take care of him.

Now, I could spoil the ending for you, and believe me, I really want to. However, if I do that, what’s the point in you watching the movie? I will tell you this, though – we finally get a confession from Seung-min – “널 좋아했었으니까” (because I liked you), and Seo-yeon also says “난, 네가…네가 내 첫사랑이였으니까” (I…you…because you were my first love!)

Director of Architecture 101 (건축학개론) – Director Yong-ju Lee (이용주감독님):

Immediately after the movie there was a wonderful Q&A session with Director Lee. I made some notes of the questions that were asked and the answers that were given.

1)     How did you come up with the script for the film?
Director Lee said that architecture is really difficult, and he knows this since he majored in architecture in university. He was able to come up with the script more easily because of his knowledge in the area.

2)     Are you a fan of melodrama? Since the film seems to be a kind of melodrama.
Director Lee said that his film is not about passionate love but a still and calm love. It’s not portrayed in a visibly violent or powerful way. He used the word 신파 (shin-pa), which is apparently hard to translate but was described by his translator as some kind of extremely passionate love. Using my own intuition and knowledge of Korean linguistics I will guess it’s a compound word coined from “신하다” meaning “strong/powerful/severe” and 파 from “passion” in English. But this is just my guess. It was actually the first time I’d heard someone use that word before, so I’m unsure. Based on the context I’m just making a guess here.

3)     Can you talk a little about the details and meticulousness of the film? I think it was really great to have landlines, walkmans, “Geuss” shirts – to represent the 90s, when part of the film was taking place. 

Director Lee said that he was in his twenties in the nineties and was spending his time the way the male protagonist of the film was. Also, it seems to be a part of Korean culture, in a way, it was common in Korea for people to buy imitations of expensive U.S. brand name clothes, like GUESS. He wondered aloud how Canadians would perceive this. He admitted to missing the nineties. He also said that the details of the film were very important to him.

4)     How did you go from majoring in architecture to film?
Director Lee admitted that this was a question he was commonly asked. He said he finds movies to be very interesting. He said he loves architecture, comparing it to the situation in the movie. He said architecture was like his first love, and it’s been ten years now that he’s been in film, so he doesn’t think he could ever go back to architecture.

5)     How much did you help in the design of the house?
Director Lee said he was involved from beginning to end in the design of the house. He also said the house in the movie was just a set so it was taken down but they are in the process of rebuilding it on Jeju Island and it will be available for people to see as a gallery starting from next year.

6)     What was it like having your film screened on Nov. 11 – the day of Seo-yeon’s birthday (일일일일)?
Director Lee said that Nov. 11 was actually yesterday in Korea, and he’s not sure if we have something like this in Canada, but in Korea it is pepero day (빼빼로 데이). So he told the audience that it was up to them to decide whether or not Seo-yeon’s birthday was actually Nov. 11, or if she just made it up to tease Seung-min.

7)     Someone from the audience complimented Director Lee on the wonderful creation of the character Nab-ddeuk. In response Director Lee admitted that he loved that character as well, mainly because “I think I strongly resemble Nab-ddeuk”.

After the film, I had the good fortune of running into Director Lee more than once. I took a picture with him and also had a short conversation with him in Korean. I asked him, “건축학개론 캐나다에서도 인기가 많아서 기분이 좀 어때요?” (How do you feel about Architecture 101 having so much popularity in Canada too?) He replied, “캐나다에서도 인기가 많이 있는 지 몰랐어요. 근데 좋겠다.” (I didn’t know that it was so popular in Canada too, but I think it’s good). Following which I asked, “캐나다는 좀 어때요?” (How’s Canada?) To which he replied, “추워요.” (It’s cold). We both laughed and I agreed with him that Canada is colder than Korea. I thanked him and told him it was nice to meet him, he agreed, and I left.

I went to the gala immediately after that encounter, and happened to run into him again. I told him I loved his film and explained I was writing a movie review on his film for a blog, and if there was anything he would like to say to Canadians who enjoy his film. He took some time to think and then wrote the following in my notebook:






Thank you”

“To Canadians who love my movie

Architecture 101 Director

Yong-ju Lee

Thank you.

I’m expecting more progress and exchange of movies between Canada and Korea.

Thank you”


That’s it for me today! Thanks so much for reading my review. I’m so honoured to have written a review for Architecture 101 (건축학개론) even more honoured that I got to share it with everyone on Cindy’s blog, and yet even more honoured that I got to meet and speak with the director of the film.

If you haven’t watched Architecture 101 yet, I strongly recommend it!

Totally give this move like 12/10

Nicole Angelucci

I love reading and writing. I'm pretty different. I'm open-minded and I think alot. I love Korean things! 한국어를 배우고있는데 제 한국어 능력이 아직 부족해요 ㅠ.ㅠ 어렵기 때문이에요... ㅋㅋ 그래도 한국어를 무지 좋아해서 괜찮아요 ^_^

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