The students of No Use High relish in their sexual promiscuity and non-traditional education

Dasepo Naughty Girls (다세포 소녀) – ★★☆☆☆

Dasepo Naughty Girls (다세포 소녀)

Dasepo Naughty Girls (다세포 소녀)

The opportunity to talk in terms of queer theory, ‘camp’, and ‘otherness’ in mainstream Korean cinema is quite rare. While Korean ideology continually changes at an incredible rate, the conservative Confucian ethics still hold immense influence over the attitudes towards the roles of men, women, and sexual relations. Yet cinema is arguably the best medium in which to explore such counter-cultural themes given the creative freedom of expression inherent to the industry, perhaps more so than the structurally rigid television dramas and K-pop. Enter Dasepo Naughty Girls (다세포 소녀).

Based on the highly popular web-comic, Dasepo Naughty Girls explores the lives of the students at Useless High School (or No Use High), a school where sexual promiscuity is encouraged and the curriculum is anything but traditional. Director Lee J-young (이재용) wisely exploits the opportunity to employ original and creative vision to a narrative that includes protagonists of every sexual persuasion and circumstance. The result is incredibly mixed, as the directorial flair is certainly unique and celebratory, yet is aligned with an awfully vapid and directionless narrative that not only forces the LGBT and transvestite characters into figures of ridicule, but also pushes the boundaries of perversity as certain scenarios are clearly middle-aged male fantasies.

The students at No Use High live rather disparate lives. ‘Poor Girl’ (Kim Ok-bin (김옥빈) lives an extremely humble life due to poverty, literally carrying its’ personification on her back. ‘Rich Boy’ Anthony (Park Jin-woo (박진우) has found love, yet is confused as she is a pre-op transgendered person interestingly named ‘Two Eyes’. Her brother, ‘Cyclops’ (Lee Kyeon (이켠), suffers as the loneliest and only virginal member of the school. As the students’ lives are interwoven, each one must face personal trials to overcome before the final day of graduation. Yet their greatest obstacle is posed by the evil and mysterious principle, who has the power to change bold, individualistic female students into brainwashed geeks. The students must work together to defeat the evil menace in order to continue their lifestyles and graduate unscathed.

The students of No Use High relish in their sexual promiscuity and non-traditional education

The students of No Use High relish in their sexual promiscuity and non-traditional education

Stylistically, Dasepo Naughty Girls is an enjoyable treat with a vibrant colour palette and quirky musical offerings. The opening sees a group of K-pop stylized girls in pink dancing through the school, which is not only fun but sets up the offbeat nature of the film well. Similarly the introduction of musical numbers within the film is entertaining and unique as Korean norae-bang (singing room) culture is wonderfully injected to provide comedy.

Yet aside from a few initial titters, Dasepo Naughty Girls is surprisingly very light on comedy as the scenes intended to provide laughs often result in either immature body jokes or are offensive. While it’s wonderful to see LGBT and transvestite characters receiving screen-time that is more celebratory than depressive, they are quickly ridiculed by a narrative that is desperately attempting to be fun and hip while disguising archaic ideological judgement. For example, ‘Rich Boy’ Anthony’s infatuation with transgendered ‘Double Eyes’ begins humorously during a bathroom error, yet a pornographic video reduces her to a mere body prop from which the character never recovers. ‘Poor Girl’s’ servicing of ‘clients’ also begins well, yet upon meeting transvestite ‘Big Razor Sis’ the duo compete for feminine superiority and acceptance through performance that clearly had only one winner from the start. Racism also appears in the form of an absentee English teacher who not only has sexual liaisons with students but has also infected them with an STD. In these and other scenes it is never the denizens of No Use High that pass judgement but rather the narrative that frequently posits such figures in society as shocking ‘deviants’ to be laughed at and from which comedy can be derived.

Yet ironically the most bizarre – and frankly perverse – plot involves the respected figure of the principal. The mystery involves female students who were previously sexually adventurous, but after visiting the principal’s office become studious nerds with little interest in boys. To achieve this, the principal takes a glob of green material (presumably jade) from his mouth and, using his finger, inserts it into the students’ vagina, for which they are thankful and grateful. As prior to such scenes the principal and his methods were barely a blip on the narrative radar, this tangent conveys not only a ‘tacked on’ sensibility but also a middle-aged male fantasy of intimacy with sexually willing high school girls. The resulting battle, which sees students wafting their genital ‘power’ at the source of the disturbance, is a surreal scenario that seemingly attempts to circumvent prior scenes through oddity, and additionally offers precious little closure on the array of narrative threads that lead to such a juncture.

'Poor Girl' meets a transvestite client for teenage frolics

‘Poor Girl’ meets a transvestite client for teenage frolics

It is particularly difficult to discuss Dasepo Naughty Girls in terms of acting, as the film is intended to be an over-acted and surrealist take on high school life. The extremely limiting screen-time bestowed upon most of the protagonists also hinders proceedings as most characters barely reappear after their initial introduction.

Amongst the handful of characters that recur, it is  ‘Poor Girl’ who appears the most and as such carries Dasepo Naughty Girls on her shoulders. This is actually in the films’ favor as the actress is incredibly talented, managing to find the ambiguous fine line between tongue-in-cheek humour, offbeat comedy, and genuine acting. Kim Ok-bin gives the film much needed focus and grounding as well as a heart and soul, and her presence is sorely missed when other protagonists are followed. Her scenes with ‘Big Razor Sis’ are in stark contrast to the poverty inherent in her private life, yet the actress is convincing in each and every scenario.

'Poor Girl's' love for 'Rich Boy' Anthony is continually unrequited

‘Poor Girl’s’ love for ‘Rich Boy’ Anthony is continually unrequited


Dasepo Naughty Girls is stylized entertainment, one that uses imaginative colour and camera techniques to provide fun and quirky originality within a national cinema that tends to focus on more standardized storytelling. Yet the stylization cannot hide the vacuous nature of the narrative which simultaneously celebrates and derides the protagonists within, and which also fails to merge the various threads into a coherent whole.


Jin-oh's wacky antics continually entertain

Over My Dead Body (시체가 돌아왔다) – ★★★☆☆

Over my Dead Body (시체가 돌아왔다)

Over My Dead Body (시체가 돌아왔다)

Korean cinema has something of a love affair with partnering a mad-cap group of disparate individuals, who are  given the unenviable task of bringing the corrupt elite to justice. The repetition of such a narrative framework is undoubtedly ideologically founded, yet the translation of the sense of ‘Han’ within the team dynamic is often hit-and-miss. For every The Host (괴물) is a Once Upon a Time (원스 어폰 어 타임); for every Take Off (국가대표) is a Sector 7 (7광구).

Writer/director Wu Seon-ho’s (우선호) foray into the arena is more comically-macabre in nature as an exploited group of individuals attempt to ransom a corpse. As such Over My Dead Body (시체가 돌아왔다)  provides a distinctly fresh approach to the concept yet never manages to fully capitialise on the premise, instead falling back on the tried-and-tested format – and cliches – of its forebearers. Luckily the addition of Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범), who is a charismatic delight throughout, singlehandedly elevates Over My Dead Body out of mediocrity.

Protesting against the unscrupulous CEO of a technology firm, engineer Baek Hyeon-cheol (Lee Beom-soo (이범수) and his mentor throw eggs and chant slogans in the belief that the specialist microchip they have developed is being sold abroad. They are indeed correct, as the CEO has been faking an illness and has implanted the microchip within himself in a bid to smuggle the technology into America for a large profit. Yet through their persistance Hyeon-cheol and his senior reveal the fraud to the country, and in retaliation the mentor is brutally inured. Swearing revenge for the crimes against her father, Han Dong-hwa (Kim Ok-bin (김옥빈) enlists the help of ever-reluctant Hyeon-cheol. However, with the shocking news of the CEO’s death the duo hatch a plan to steal the corpse and hold it to ransom – unwittingly stealing the microchip in the process. Yet when the corpse suddenly awakens to reveal conman Ahn Jin-oh (Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범), the trio must begrudgingly combine their skills in order to walk away with the money – and their lives.

Hyeon-cheol and Dong-hwa pledge to bring to corrupt to justice

Hyeon-cheol and Dong-hwa pledge to bring the corrupt to justice

Over My Dead Body begins in a fun but rather odd science-fiction fashion as Hyeon-cheol chases down a corrupt CEO who deals with advanced microchips and lasers. The premise of the film is then quickly set up, as Dong-hwa and Hyeon-cheol – who transforms from science-nerd to attractive middle-aged man in a matter of minutes – go about planning to steal the titular corpse. The duo’s theft is humorous and entertaining, as they fumble their way through security measures and unforeseen circumstances in a bid to complete their mission. The resulting getaway is also highly enjoyable, with Jin-oh’s awakening corpse routine a real highlight of the film.

It’s at this stage that Over My Dead Body seemingly runs out of ideas as a slew of underdeveloped characters are introduced that do little to continue the promising momentum of the first act. These stock characters are all stereotypical in nature, including the unintelligent gangster duo, bumbling National Intelligence Agency officers, and a host of security personal led by a nefarious kingpin. The narrative desperately attempts to juggle everyone and give them adequate relevance, but there are far too many and the story becomes bogged down as the central protagonists move from one set piece to the next. The decision to include such stereotypes also opens up a variety of cliched and predictable scenarios, some of which are humorous while others tend to fall flat, making the narrative lack compulsion with yet another case of mistaken identity and/or betrayal. By including so many narrative threads the central cast suffer from lack of development, particularly Kim Ok-bin (김옥빈) whose talents are vastly under-utilized as she exists merely as ‘the sexy punk girl/love interest.’

Luckily Over My Dead Body is consistently rejuvenated whenever Jin-oh (Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) appears, as his mixture of whacky antics, deviousness and over-acting are highly comical and drag the narrative out of any slumps that occur. Thanks to his wise inclusion the film never sinks into blandness, and makes the narrative much more compelling to see through to its conclusion.

Joined by charismatic/psychotic con-man Jin-oh, the trio continue their quest

Joined by charismatic/psychotic con-man Jin-oh, the trio continue their quest

Lee Beom-soo is an interesting choice as science nerd Hyeon-cheol, and delivers a competent and likable performance. While he – as with his compatriots – suffers from lack of character development, Lee Beom-soo conducts himself as an intelligent ‘every-man’ well. The director’s decisions in regards to costume make it difficult to convey the character, as he strangely moves from geek to office worker to university student, a feature which is also reflected in his personality as it undergoes dramatic shifts from shy to intelligent to aggressive.

Kim Ok-bin is generally employed as a sexy love interest in playing Dong-hwa, and aside from inspiring the heist is incredibly undervalued. The actress plays the role of the strong, stubborn punk well yet there are few scenes in which her character is allowed to convey more, with her pink hair and cell phone charms the only indicators to greater depth. An effort is made to connect her with her sick father, yet such sparse time is dedicated it barely registers.

Ryoo Seung-beom is seemingly the only actor who understands the tongue-in-cheek farcical nature of the narrative, and over-acts in each scene with wonderful charisma. Yet throughout his performance he also keeps the audience guessing as to whether Jin-oh is a hyper-intelligent fraudster or genuinely mentally unstable, making him a comical and entertaining protagonist within each scene. Again, little depth is ascribed to Jin-oh yet his presence and hyperactivity circumvents criticism in this regard as the film is elevated largely due to him.

Jin-oh's wacky antics continually entertain

Jin-oh’s wacky antics continually entertain


Over My Dead Body offers an interesting and comically-macabre spin on the crime heist sub-genre, and often succeeds in being entertaining throughout due to the premise. Yet the film largely falls into cliche and predictability following the first act due to the reliance upon an array of stock characters and a lack of inventiveness.  However Ryoo Seung-beom’s presence consistently raises the film, and fans of the actor will not be disappointed as Over My Dead Body is an enjoyable film largely thanks to him.