By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 13, 2001 at 2:46 AM

Love stories are a dime a dozen. For that we can blame Shakespeare. It seems like every week a different movie riffs on "Romeo and Juliet." When in doubt borrow from a classic.

Despite strong performances and gorgeous scenery, "Chunhyang," acclaimed Korean filmmaker Im Kwon Taek's take on a tale of star-crossed lovers, fails due to an excessive running time and a storytelling device known as pansori, an ancient narrative art form combining dance, music and song.

In 18th Century Korea, a young couple has fallen in love. Mongryong (Cho Seung Woo) is the son of the Governor of Namwon and Chunhyang (Lee Hyo Jung) is a former courtesan's daughter. Because he is noble and she is not, the pair marries in secret.

Unfortunately, not long after they are married Mongryong must go to Seoul and finish his education. Chunhyang can't go with him because his parents and the general public would disapprove of the marriage. He leaves reluctantly and promises to return for her as soon as possible.

While Mongryong is in Seoul a new governor is appointed in the province where Chunhyang lives. Heartless and cruel, he orders her to be his courtesan. But devoted to her husband, she refuses, vowing to remain faithful. The new governor, displeased, imprisons Chunhyang and orders her execution to be carried out on his birthday.

Ambitious and easy on the eyes, "Chunhyang" is ultimately done in by an obnoxious and intrusive singing narrator. He is used for most of the film and is annoying and distracting, stealing any dramatic impact the movie might have had.

"Chunhyang" could have been a great film. Despite being conventional the story is compelling, the two leads are excellent and the cinematography is beautiful. But all of this is no match for the overbearing narration.

Grade: C

"Chunhyang" opens April 13 at Landmark's Oriental Theatre.