Sunday, November 1, 2020

Busan 2020 Review: LIMECRIME Tunes Up Coming-of-Age Drama with Sick Beats

Part of MKC's coverage of the 25th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

Sometimes all you need is a beat and a rhyme. Based on the past experiences of its first time directors, Limecrime is a winning coming-of-age drama that largely sticks to the basics as it confidently explores a youth underground hip hop scene. Measured performances and rhythmic rap scenes allow it to overcome its more prosaic elements, such as a tepidly explored class divide.

Song-ju, the son of a car mechanic, is struggling in school and has fallen in with a bad crowd. At the same school but on the other side of the tracks is Ju-yeon, who glides through life with top grades and the easy charm and confidence that his family’s wealth and security afford him. Despite their differences, the pair bond over their shared love of hip-hop, with Ju-yeon first approaching Song-ju when he lends him a discman and a Wu-Tang Clan album. Though Song-ju is hesitant at first, they soon grow closer and Ju-yeon suggests starting a rap duo called Rhyme Crime. Song-ju misspells it Limecrime, and the name sticks. After a successful performance at an underground club, they have a chance to join up with a group from a top arts school and if they play their cards right, they could also enter the hallowed institution, but as Song-ju’s other friends get into trouble, his loyalties start to split.

Director Lee Seung-hwan and Yoo Jae-wook did indeed meet over their shared love of 90s hip hip and formed a duo called 'Limecrime'. It’s not clear which elements are true-life or fabricated but at the very least we can imagine that the passion for the music, and the process of the characters making their own and merging their styles is too specific and compelling not to be drawn from real life.

With a muted color palette and plenty of handheld closeup camerawork, the film evinces the trademarks of the social dramas that are so common in Korea’s low-budget realm. With the pronounced class divide between its protagonists, the extended focus on family friction at home (mostly between Song-ju and his father) and the looming spectre of crime with threatens to suck in Song-ju, Limecrime shares plenty of common thematic ground with these films, but thankfully Directors Lee and Yoo never press full court with any of these elements, which are handled well but unexceptionally. Instead, these elements add a couple of roadblocks to overcome (and fodder for the rhymes) in the main thrust of the film, which is Song-ju and Ju-yeon’s shared musical pursuit.

One of the highlights of the film is seeing the pair blend their styles. Ju-yeon is literate and cocky, and strict with rhymes and structure, while the initially diffident Song-ju just wants to rap and get things off his chest. When they finally hit the stage together and the beat comes on, it doesn’t take long for the audience (within and watching the film) to tune in and bop to their sick beats.

Lee Min-woo is a strong fit for the more introspective Song-ju, and he effectively guides us through his clear coming-of-age trajectory, but it might by Jang Yoo-sang who gives the more interesting and layered performance as the somewhat atypical Ju-yeon. Jang also appears in the the sci-fi Empty Body in Busan this year.

Limecrime may skip over some of the requisite, ahem, beats of the coming of age drama, but when the result is so earnest and endearing, it’s easy enough to give it a pass on some of its more simplistic narrative elements. They may have to look elsewhere for inspiration for their next project, but Lee and Yoo clearly know how to put on an entertaining show.


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