After being in the doldrums for a few years, Korean cinema seems to have regained its stride as it rebuilds its reputation abroad. However, as much as I’m thrilled to see new Korean film festivals, on-demand ventures and a free classic Korean film youtube channel, when it comes to Korean entertainment, the word on everyone’s lips these days is k-pop.
Hollywood’s Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Usher and co. are getting some serious challenges from the likes of 2NE1, Girls Generation, Big Bang and BoA with their sharp moves, fresh threads and slick videos. The industry has featured in many recent Korean films, like the k-pop themed drama Mr. Idol (2011) and horror White:The Melody of the Curse (2011) and its stars are also making strides to the silver screen, such as Big Bang’s Top in 71: Into the Fire (2010). Personally I don’t really listen to pop music so k-pop tends to fall just outside my radar though even I am aware when someone like Rain goes to do his military duty! The sector is so big that it’s hard to ignore it.
Koo Ha-jong’s Dangerously Excited instead focusses on different styles of modern Korean music, vaguely labeled as ‘indie’ or independent, lest we forget that k-pop is not the only music in the land. It is a charming little film about a civil worker who takes pride in and excels at his job. One day his duties require him to evict an indie rock band from their apartment and following a series of events he winds up host to the young musicians and subsequently fills in for their bassist.
Yoon Jae-moon takes the lead in this film and though he is recognizable from a host of major recent Korean films (The Good, the Bad and the Weird, 2008; Mother, 2009), this is the first time I’ve seen him assume the principal role in a feature. He’s a natural fit as the straight-laced office worker who treasures the order in his life and his performance never veers into caricature. Instead, his slight mannerisms and idiosyncrasies add expressive layers to a standard fish-out-of-water character.
The music in the film probably won’t be considered ‘indie’ by most Western listeners, but it is still a welcome change of pace from the carefully fabricated songs from the more commercial k-pop scene. Though in the end, Dangerously Excited doesn’t really seem to be a film about music, instead it works as a cautionary tale. Both from the point of view of its lead who, despite finding pleasure in something outside of his orderly and ordinary existence, is wary of upsetting the established social order for fear of reprisal, and the band who can’t even find a place to live as they refuse to conform to social norms.
Yoon’s protagonist is quite detailed but we don’t learn much about the band members, who are symbolic rather than fully fleshed out. This inevitably means that it is a little difficult to care about their travails and this is to the film’s detriment. Koo should either have made the film all about the lead or given the secondary characters more definition. Though speaking of co-stars there are a handful of very welcome cameos from some of the best actors in Korea who should be recognizable to any fans of Korean film.
Dangerously Excited made for very pleasant viewing and I look forward to Yoon as a lead in future films but I can’t imagine that this one will connect with local viewers when it opens in Korea in July. Instead, just like the film’s indie musicians, it may be viewed with apprehension by spectators, who will likely shun it in favor of the summer season’s high profile offerings, both from at home and abroad. Nevertheless I do think that sophomore director Koo Ja-hong has potential as a strong storyteller and I hope he can hone his skills with his next outing.
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