Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: THREE SUMMER NIGHT Strips Down To Bikinis And Cheap Jokes

By Pierce Conran

Bikini bods, thugs and knuckleheads cross paths under the summer sun in the latest from Korean comedy maestro Kim Sang-jin. Just as chaotic as his earlier output but with less of an edge, Kim brings his trademark cause-and-effect comedy brand to Three Summer Night, a diverting yet forgettable spin on The Hangover.

Three high school friends, tired of their dead-end jobs or nagging significant others, decide it's high time for high tide, as they impulsively take a trip down to sunny Busan's Haeundae Beach. Once there it doesn't take long for all hell to break loose when they mistakenly end up in possession of a bag of drugs belonging to none other than the man they put in jail during their school days. But when they lose the bag the next morning they must piece together the hazy memories from the drug-fuelled night.

Though comedy is popular on the Korean film scene, only two names have consistently encountered success (save for the last five years) in the modern era: Jang Jin, the wittiest pen in the business (Guns & Talk), and Kim Sang-jin, the anarchy choreographer behind Attack the Gas Station, Kick the Moon and Jail Breakers. In his best films, one thing after another befalls his hapless and predominantly male protagonists until things escalate into a maelstrom of chaos that sucks in every available body within a five-mile radius. Reminiscent of cop car pileups of the Blues Brothers films, Kim doesn't like to end a story until he's packed the frame with as many bodies as it can fit.

He employs this same approach in Three Summer Night, though rather than build-up to one enormous crescendo, Kim opts for three set big pieces. First on a beach, where the leads accidentally stumble onto scantily-clad women's breasts and backsides, igniting the ire of their meathead boyfriends and quickly attracting the attention of undercover cops, low-rent gangsters and eventually everyone with a foot on the sand. The labored build-up is cheap and doesn't pay off but Kim redeems himself with a less linear and more creatively chaotic sequence in a nightclub later on. When it comes time for the climactic showdown, he can't seem to keep up with his own pace, closing the action on a whimper.

While Kim hasn't exactly tackled social issues head-on in the past, his earlier films became successful as they spoke to a disenfranchised youth, and, as they grew up, young adults whose life trajectories have been stalled by forces greater than them. Three Summer Night threatens to go in that direction early on, even though it's no longer a novel approach today, but most of the narrative is punctuated with bare skin and sex jokes, which had, up until now, seldom been seen in the director's work. It's a tactless direction that is more disappointing for its weak execution than its facile titillation.

Lacking the budget for marquee names, Kim makes due with Kim Dong-wook, Lim Won-hee and Son Ho-jun as his three leads. Though the group works relatively well when they're all together on screen, when set apart, which is often (as they are each assigned a local sex partner), they struggle to keep the film on track. Veteran funnyman Lim (Dachimawa Lee), who is a good 15 years older than his 30-year-old character, fares best, but that's largely because he has the relatively easy job of being the goofy comic relief. Meanwhile, little-known Son seems to have been cast for his vague resemblance to Cha Seung-won (the lead of three of Kim's most popular films), and Kim (The Concubine) has a hard time giving his henpecked character any definition.

There's a fun summer comedy buried somewhere in Three Summer Night, but by ticking all the requisite boxes and staying thoroughly within his comfort zone, which past its heyday a decade ago, Kim's 11th film is the equivalent of cinematic fast food, quickly consumed and not enough to tide you over till dinner. On a side note, anyone who has visited the Busan International Film Festival before will get a kick out of recognizing most of the film's locations.


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