Not to be confused with the 2008 drama, Who Are You is a 2002 movie about a computer game programmer and an aquarium worker. Jo Seung-woo is Jee Hyung-tae. For the last two years, he has been working on a computer game called Who R U.
A cross between a game and a chatline, Who R U is a sophisticated make-believe world of people and places. Players form pairs, called partners, picking each other out from other players and establishing an exclusive online relationship. Through their game personas, they tell each other things about themselves and increasingly interact like real friends. If comfortable and brave enough, they may even decide: “Hey, let’s meet.” Online Who R U then becomes real-life “Oh, so this is you.”
Suh Inju (Lee Na-young) is a former national swimmer now working in an aquarium. (Think Underwater World or Monterey Bay Aquarium but on a smaller and less impressive scale.) Quiet and unassuming, she’s a different person online. A participant in Who R U‘s beta test (before it is officially launched), she has developed a reputation among Hyung-tae’s colleagues as a “stabber” because of her penchant for speed and destruction (when she’s racing the cars in Who R U), and for her strong language.
Unknown to her, her partner in the game (Hyung-tae’s buddy and colleague) wants out and Hyung-tae takes over. Also, as a beta tester, her name, telephone number and work address are all known to Hyung-tae. She of course has no idea who he is; neither is she aware that he has a negative impression of her because of her “stabber” reputation.
Through a series of events, their paths cross repeatedly and Hyung-tae soon learns who she is. That knowledge alters their online relationship in a most awkward way for him. He knows her but must pretend that he doesn’t. She, on her part, has no clue that this man whom she keeps bumping into is her Who R U partner.
Despite himself, Hyung-tae is drawn increasingly to Inju. Since they are partners, he tells her to regard him as her “invisible friend,” someone who’s always around for her, someone in whom she can confide anything. When she shares her secret wish to swim in a lake called Titicaca, he creates it specially for her in their Who R U world. His act touches her deeply. Her “invisible friend” has now become her closest friend.
Even as Inju’s feelings for Mello (Hyung-tae’s online name) are growing, Hyung-tae is wrestling with his own feelings for Inju, this girl who was supposed to be just one of his beta testers. He learns (from an online search) why she had to quit the national swim team three years ago and the revelation stuns him into action. In a scene that is bound to thrill Jo Seung-woo’s fans, Mello sings to Inju, positively yelling out his feelings for her through the lyrics of the song.
As far as plotlines go, Who Are You is refreshingly straightforward. For example, when I watch Korean dramas or movies, one of the things that irks me is when a couple have a tiff or misunderstanding, one of them (usually the girl) runs away and the other (the guy) just STANDS THERE. Go after her, you idiot!
But it’s different in Who Are You. When he finally tells her who he is, she is stunned momentarily and then she runs away. And boy, she can really run. Her daily exercise is to run up 30 storeys, so she is extremely fit. As she dashes off, hurt and bewildered by his confession, does he stand and simply gaze after her forlornly? Thank goodness, no! He races after her and both of them run and run. He does not stop until he grabs hold of her.
The best thing about Who Are You is Jo Seung-woo’s acting. There’s something really earnest and believable about him. I think he looks better here than in The Classic (and I really did like him there). He’s able to convey so convincingly that mixture of world-weariness, hurt, optimism and tenderness. I especially love how astute he is with Lee Na-young’s character, even though one can argue he was deceptive with her initially.
Lee Na-young is very natural here as well. Her character reminds me a lot of her role in Ruler of Your Own World. They dress similarly and have the same seemingly contradictory personality: quiet and introspective, stubborn and strong-willed. When I watched Who Are You, I thought Lee Na-young was reprising her role in ROYOW, but I’ve since learned that it’s the reverse because Who Are You came first.
The movie raises questions about online duplicity, a valid concern given how immersed many of us are in this otherworld of the Internet. We form friendships online, we share secrets and intimacies, we even fall in love. Who are you, and who am I to you? Are you really the person you claim to be? To make money and because it’s his job, Hyung-tae creates an online game that toys with the idea that we can be anything we want to be online, say anything, go anywhere. It’s all just a game, anyway. And then he falls in love with this girl he meets off- and online. And the girl is in love with this imaginary guy he has created called Mello. The joke is now at his expense.