A Film a Week - Seoul Vibe / Seouldaejakjeon

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

“Seoul Vibe”, the newest film directed by Moon Hyun-sung (whose previous works include 2012 period sports drama “As One” and 2017 even more period crime-mystery “The King’s Case Note”), certainly promises a lot of fun. It is a period piece set in the politically interesting times in recent history, and an action comedy with a lot of car chases. Regarding those things, it is a bit of pity that it came to us via Netflix, meaning only on the small screens, since a movie theatre feels like a natural setting for watching such a flick.

We meet our protagonists, Dong-wook (Yoo Ah-in, the star of Lee Chang-dong’s masterpiece “Burning”) and Joon-gi (Ong Seong-wu) at the end of their mission in Saudi Arabia where they were tasked by their Korean boss with transporting guns and ammo across the desert in the back of a pick-up truck. After the job accomplished and paid, they return back to Seoul with a dream of taking a part in the famous Daytona race in the United States. Back in Seoul, the landscape they used to know does not exist anymore: it’s 1988, the military dictatorship is overthrown and the Summer Olympics are about to get underway. Unfortunately for them, it also means that their neighbourhood has been demolished in the process of the preparations for the biggest sporting event in the country and in the world. Luckily, their garage hideout is intact, so the dream can go on.

However, the ambitious prosecutor Ahn (Oh Jung-se, glimpsed in “The Call” and “Swing Kids”) has plans of his own for the extended crew that also includes the aspiring DJ Woo-sam (Go Kyung-pyo, “Decision to Leave”), the cabbie Bok-nam (Lee Kyoo-hyung) and Don-wook’s motorbike-riding kid sister Yoon-hee (Park Ju-hyun) and knows enough about their illegal activities to lock them up or to get their US visas denied. So he enlists them to infiltrate into a loan-sharking criminal clan lead by Director Lee (Kim Seong-gyoon, recently glimpsed in “Sinkhole”), but the goal of their investigation is the dictatorship’s slash fund, while the general’s wife Kang In-sook (Moon So-ri of “The Handmaiden” fame) is the missing link (and the film’s main villain) herself. But first, the crew has to pass the driving test…

To say that “Seoul Vibe” is a loud film would be an understatement. It actually screams on the most of the fields: the action is breath-taking, the twists are sharp, the comedy is broad, the visual design is striking, so are the visual effects and practical stunts, and, on top of that, the whole thing is dipped in funk and hip-hop soundtrack by Nene Kang and DJ Soulscape. Actually, it could serve as the Korean mainstream cinema answer to the contemporary Hollywood car-chase action franchises like “Fast and Furious” and “Need for Speed”, with an addition of retro-styling, retro-cars and 80s pastel colour scheme.

However, the trouble is that it contains too much of everything. The presence of too many characters hampers their development and sentences the actors to broad-stroke acting, resulting in only the villainess Kang being the memorable one. Too many twists and turns result in convoluted plot and, combined with overly elaborate action sequences, in the runtime of 140 minutes that certainly takes its toll. Although Moon’s directing is pretty sure-handed and the craft components are solid throughout, there is only that much that could be done with Shin Sua’s script, and it is especially obvious without the packed movie theatre magic.

There were two ways out of it. One could be streamlining of the plot in order for the runtime to be kept under or around two-hour-mark. The second is a further development of the material for another format, namely the mini-series that would actually suit the distribution channel. Still, “Seoul Vibe” is far from a bad effort, but it is also far from a perfect one.

No comments:

Post a Comment