The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계) – ★★★☆☆

The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계)

The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계)

Kang In-gu (Song Kang-ho (송강호) is far from the average gangster. While he joins his compatriots in the Dog Gang as they partake in criminal activities and expand their territory, In-gu also wants the joy of having a typical family. Yet his long-suffering wife (Park Ji-young (박지영) and daughter (Kim So-eun (김소은) are deeply ashamed of his occupation, with In-gu’s efforts to impress them and earn their respect constantly failing. Thankfully, due to a great deal secured by In-gu, he can finally quit the gangster lifestyle and focus on creating the perfect home in the suburbs. Yet when the ambitious younger brother (Yoon Je-moon (윤제문) of the big boss (Choi Il-hwa (최일화) makes a play for power, In-gu’s dreams quickly begin to unravel.

In-gu's attempts to have a career as a gangster as well as a family strain his relationships

In-gu’s attempts to have a career as a gangster as well as a family strain his relationships

The Show Must Go On is a unique gangster tale in that director Han Jae-rim does away with the overt machismo and glamourisation of the underworld lifestyle, presenting a more grounded and comedic interpretation of the genre. Crime comedies have become somewhat of a staple in Korean cinema with the Marrying the Mafia and My Wife is a Gangster series, but what sets The Show Must Go On apart from its peers is that overt humour is jettisoned in favour of irony and satire. The original Korean title translates as ‘Elegant World‘ yet In-gu’s life is revealed as anything but, as he works hard in absurd situations in order to provide for his family but succeeds only in upsetting them further. When his daughter’s grades slip, for example, In-gu attempts to bribe the concerned teacher with vouchers incurring greater animosity from the family. In his role as senior gangster, In-gu is forced to wrestle with a short middle-aged man and bite his fingers in order to acquire prints for a contract. It is through such ironic moments that director Han pokes fun at both the lifestyle and the genre, resulting in a film with a distinct identity.

That said, the humour within the crime-comedy-drama misses more often than it hits. While director Han competently helms the action and creates certain confrontations that raise a smile, others mostly just fall flat and give way to violent conflict, dramatic scenes, or a combination of the two. As such the tone within The Show Must Go On veers uncontrollably throughout the narrative and is incredibly uneven from beginning to end. Certain set-pieces – such as a battle royale between gangsters and striking construction workers, presented as comedic through the overtly feminine fighting styles of the supposedly tough criminals – make light of keen social problems which tends to seem in bad taste. Legendary supporting actor Oh Dal-soo is employed to help bring a greater element of fun as In-gu’s best friend from a rival gang, however his paltry screen-time unfortunately allows him little room to maneuver.

In-gu and best friend Hyun-soo joke around in one of the film's lighter moments

In-gu and best friend Hyun-soo joke around in one of the film’s lighter moments

The uneven tonal balance extends to The Show Must Go On’s weak final act, where the film disappointingly falls into repetition and melodrama. At 112 minutes the film doesn’t have a particularly long running time yet due to the imbalances and protracted finale, tedium sets in ultimately resulting in a film which feels overly long.

What makes The Show Must Go On watchable and entertaining is the highly charismatic performance of Song Kang-ho, who carries the entire film on his talented shoulders. The star has made a career out of playing incredibly likable, bumbling, well-intentioned fools and he channels such prowess brilliantly into the character of In-gu. Song also manages to construct the protagonist as so appealing that a great deal of sympathy is almost demanded from the audience, despite In-gu’s status in the criminal underworld. The actor conveys the gangster first and foremost as a sensitive husband and father, desperate to do right by them yet as he is his own worst enemy, he simply creates further embarrassment and tension. In removing the overt machismo and swagger so often associated with the genre and constructing In-gu as a character with more diversity and depth, Song has taken a highly uneven script and made it an engaging drama.

In-gu is violent when necessary but first and foremost is a family man

In-gu is violent when necessary but first and foremost is a family man

Verdict:

The Show Must Go On is a unique offering by director Han Jae-rim, who seeks to construct a gangster comedy with ironic and satirical sensibilities. The result is very hit-and-miss with a tone that is generally all over the place, despite the competent directing on display. The film is saved however by Song Kang-ho’s wonderful performance as a sensitive father/criminal, and fans of the actor will no doubt find much to enjoy.

★★★☆☆

Advertisements
Reviews

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담) – ★★★☆☆

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담)

Ever since he was young, high school student In-su (Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) has had the ability to see ghosts. Following a traumatic incident In-su moved to Seoul, only to find that his ‘gifts’ developed further, and apparitions appeared ever more frequently. Finally deciding to give up city life In-su returns to his countryside hometown, reuniting with his agoraphobic shaman uncle Seon-il (Kim Jeong-tae (김정태). Yet almost immediately upon his arrival a mysterious girl ghost (Kim So-eun (김소은) begins following him, and a relationship begins to blossom. Meanwhile, at In-su’s new high school, students begin disappearing one by one as a masked, vengeful spirit patrols the hallways.

A masked, vengeful ghost stalks the hallways of In-su's new school

A masked, vengeful ghost stalks the hallways of In-su’s new school

Mourning Grave (소녀괴담) is marketed primarily as a horror film, yet in truth director Oh In-cheon’s (오인천) feature debut actually amalgamates an array of genres to become a teenage romantic-comedy-drama with a macabre twist. The mix of generic features works surprisingly well as Mourning Grave is consistently an entertaining and quite enjoyable addition to the K-horror canon, one which contains an infectious appeal due to the light-hearted tone throughout.

Ironically, the jovial nature of the film, in conjunction with a narrative structure told through a series of vignettes rather than an overarching whole, is competent yet also halts the story from being particularly effective. This is perhaps understandable given director Oh’s history as an acclaimed director of short films, however the approach results in the originality of the screenplay, as well as the serious social issues within, lacking in resonance. Bullying is of central concern within Mourning Grave and the film is noteworthy for emphasising the role of the teachers, students, and even society in the creation of, and ignorance towards, the abuses endured by students. Yet as it features within an episodic sequence rather than as an underlying theme throughout, the portrayal is provoking albeit fleeting, which is a genuine shame.

Kim Jeong-tae steals the show with his turn as agoraphobic shaman Seon-il

Kim Jeong-tae steals the show with his turn as agoraphobic shaman Seon-il

As central couple In-su and ‘girl ghost’, both Kang Ha-neul and Kim So-eun are delightful. The development of their friendship and burgeoning romance is conveyed with sincerity and is lovely to watch unfold. Unfortunately due to the vignette style of the narrative the screen-time Kang and Kim share is infrequent, yet when they appear together the film embodies the qualities of innocent first love, propelling Mourning Grave into a compellingly sweet love story. However both they, as well as the other actors who fill the high school roles, are clearly too old to be playing students and serve as a distraction from the story. Luckily veteran actor Kim Jeong-tae helps to allay such issues by stealing the show as uncle Seon-il. As the agoraphobic shaman Kim is incredibly funny, employing all sorts of trickery to stop ghosts from bothering him, with his comedic timing never failing to hit the mark.

Due to the gentle nature that permeates the film, Mourning Grave is quite a predictable affair. Hints that are laced throughout the story are particularly easy to ascertain, although it is still enjoyable to see the results achieve fruition, while even the various comedic, romantic, and dramatic cliches employed are entertaining enough to raise a smile. The ever-present horror epilogue sequence, which attempts to bond the characters through a shared history and destiny, also features within Mourning Grave and while such scenes are frustratingly commonplace, director Oh has crafted an endearing finale that is poignant and heartfelt.

Central couple In-su and his ghostly companion form an endearing romance

Central couple In-su and his ghostly companion form an endearing romance

Verdict:

Mourning Grave is billed as a horror film, yet in truth director Oh In-cheon’s directorial debut actually encompasses an array of generic conventions, underpinned with a ghostly mystery. Due to the light-hearted tone the film is consistently entertaining, and the approach to serious social issues such as bullying is refreshing. Unfortunately such themes aren’t explored fully thanks to the vignette storytelling style, yet the endearing central couple, and a show stealing performance by Kim Jeong-tae as an agoraphobic shaman, make Mourning Grave an enjoyable addition to the K-horror canon.

★★★☆☆

Korean Festivals 2014 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제 18회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Reviews