How to Use Guys with Secret Tips finds director Lee Won-suk crafting a tale that is steeped in romantic comedy tropes. Choi Bo-na (Lee Si-young) is an unnoticed second assistant director for a television commercial production company. She is treated like a glorified production assistant who works long days for little pay and no recognition. While on a commercial shoot she is reintroduced to Lee Seung-jae (Oh Jung-se), a major commercial and soap opera star who just five years earlier was trying to impress her to secure an acting job. Seeing him again further reinforces to Bo-na how much of a rut her career is in. It is around this time that she encounters a mysterious salesman peddling a camper full of self-help videos. Selecting a video on controlling men, Bo-na soon uses her new tools to reinvent herself and take charge of both her career and her love life.
As you can expect, much of the comedy comes from seeing how Bo-na evolves into a more confident woman. She goes from underappreciated and introverted to someone who creates a rivalry for her affections amongst the men in her life. The fantastical elements, most notable the segments involving Dr. Swarisky (Park Yeong-gyu), only add to the film’s quirky charm. The script, which Lee co-wrote with No Hye-yeong and Ha Soon-jin, moves at a nice brisk pace. The material contains several subtle comedic moments that the viewer could easily miss if not paying close attention. There are also several amusing antidotes that look at how men and women often view the same situation differently.
The wardrobe department plays a major part in the film, especially in regards to the growth of the main character. Bo-na starts out as an utter mess, pullover clad with tuffs of hair sticking out to represent the long days of works. As she moves through the self-help video her confidence grows and she moves on to blouses and skirts and eventually elegant garments. The clothing is also used as a source of laughs whenever the various incarnations of self-help guru Dr. Swarisky emerge on screen. In one particular scene the bowtie wearing Swarisky exudes the comedic flare of Gene Wilder in his Willy Wonka days.
As far as the performances go, Lee Si-young shows a lot of range in the lead role. She is very believable as the obedient second assistant director who eventually finds the courage to come out of her shell. Lee Si-young portrays each stage of her character’s growth creditably. It should also be noted that Park Yeong-gyu is particularly strong as the constantly amusing Dr. Swarisky. There is a certain charm to the way his character leaps from the television screen to share his tips with Bo-na in real time.
While How to use Guys with Secret Tips attempts to take a unique approach to the conventional romantic comedy tropes, the film spends too much time in the realm of screwball comedy. It also does not help that the film’s running time feels too long for the subject matter presented. This is especially noticeable in the last half hour in which the film goes in a new direction that is just not needed. Though there is much to like, the self-help video segments are a delight, the film really needed to be edited much tighter. As a result, How to use Guys with Secret Tips is a film that I cannot quite recommend.