Twenty (스물) – ★★☆☆☆

Twenty (스물)

Twenty (스물)

Following their high school graduation three best friends must decide on their paths in life. Studious Kyeong-jae (Kang Ha-neul (강하늘) opts to attend a respectable university, where he quickly falls for the charms of senior Jin-joo (Min Hyo-rin (민효린); poverty-stricken artist wannabe Dong-woo (Junho (준호) decides to retake his final year, becoming close to Kyeong-jae’s sister So-hee (Lee Yoo-bi (이유비); while handsome-yet-stupid Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin (김우빈) is aimless until meeting actress Eun-hye (Jung Joo-yeon (정주연) despite already dating So-min (Jeong So-min (정소민). The one thing they all agree upon however is they all want sex, and lots of it.

Now twenty, the horny trio are forced to choose a path

Now twenty, the horny trio are forced to choose a path

Surprisingly entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny, Twenty is an enjoyable comedy by director Lee Byeong-hun. As a youthful sex comedy the film is an undoubtedly silly affair and has little substance, yet it has enough quips and gags to ensure that it’s an amusing viewing experience.

One of great pitfalls of youth-sex comedies is the objectification of women through the lustful gazes of cliched lustful male protagonists, and director Lee Byeong-hun wisely sidesteps such eye-rolling banality. While the three friends initially occupy stereotypical roles and take predictably alternative routes after graduation accordingly, the characterisation later becomes more fluid and develops as the narrative progresses. Furthermore, rather than have the camera fetishise their love interests to generate laughs, many of the jokes are derived from the trio’s stupidity and naivety in both love and adulthood. Indeed, the females are often far more mature and intellectually superior compared to their male counterparts, with their especially frank attitudes towards sex and masturbation offering some of the film’s best jokes. Although twenty years old, in many ways Chi-ho, Kyeong-jae and Dong-woo are still boys and as such the gags come thick and fast at their expense.

Chi-ho discovers what life is like without an allowance

Chi-ho discovers what life is like without an allowance

The narrative also eschews any coming-of-age morality from the proceedings which makes the film a little vacuous, yet director Lee manages to allude to, and poke fun at, many of the features of modern Korean life. As with his previous film Cheer Up Mr. Lee, the helmer/scribe produces jokes from the ridiculous situations that arise on film sets, though isn’t afraid to highlight the darker areas of ‘sponsors’ (aka ‘sugar daddies’). The manner in which young people seem to record everything seeming by instinct, especially in university rites of passage, is a fun dig at youth culture, while bittersweet jokes are also garnered from financial hardship.

Twenty loses its way as it enters the final act, as director Lee appears unsure of how to end his tale of boyhood silliness, which culminates in some contrived pairings and a rather random confrontation with some local gangsters. It’s all laughably farcical and slapstick, though does continue for too long and hints that some more stringent editing could have been employed, yet it’s nevertheless an entertaining and enjoyable experience, and in a time when so many productions emerging from the industry are so dark, Twenty is a refreshing change.

The trio find their friendship renewed despite odd circumstances

The trio find their friendship renewed despite odd circumstances

Verdict:

Director Lee Byeong-hun’s youth-sex comedy Twenty is a surprisingly enjoyable affair, particularly as the helmer/scribe steers away from cliches and objectification to generate laughs from the silliness and naivety of young men. It’s farcical and contains little substance, but as the gags continue to roll Twenty is a consistently fun, lighthearted, and one of the more successful Korean comedies in quite some time.

★★☆☆☆

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The girls become close friends through song, dance and school life

Sunny (써니) (2011) – ★★★★☆

Sunny (써니)

Sunny (써니)

Sunny (써니) is labelled as a ‘coming of age’ film, which is slightly misleading; in actual fact, it’s a ‘coming of ages’ film, and one of the best examples of the subgenre.

Na-mi (Yoo Ho-jeong (유호정) is a 40-something housewife whose identity has become lost in the daily routines of domesticity. Her husband generally ignores her and shows no affection; her daughter is spoiled and doesn’t communicate. Na-mi’s life revolves around performing chores and familial duties within the sexist patriarchal framework to which she has become accustomed. What sounds like the basis for an intense drama is comedically interrogated by writer/director Kang Hyeong-cheol (강형철), who incessantly ridicules such archaic sensibilities in both overt and subtle ways.

As both her husband and daughter refuse to acknowledge their sick mother-in-law/grandmother, Na-mi visits the hospital alone. There the comedy begins, as the intricacies of relationships are picked apart. Na-mi’s husband receives all the credit for her hard work; star-crossed lovers on a TV drama are revealed as siblings; and Na-mi’s mother reminds her daughter that she was very difficult to raise.

Walking through the ward, Na-mi accidently meets old school friend Choon-hwa (Jin Hee-kyeong (진희경), who now suffers with cancer. As the two catch-up on old times, a plot is hatched – to reunite their group of friends before Choon-hwa’s time is up. Sunny then becomes a film of two stories; Na-mi as a child and the difficulties of starting school and making new friends, and adult Na-mi as she reunifies her friends after years of separation. Director Kang Hyeong-cheol (강형철) expertly handles each narrative and interlinks them so well that the film flows with ease. Just as young Na-mi meets friends and discovers her identity, so too does her adult counterpart whose identity must be rediscovered. This leads to some incredibly funny and touching moments, such as when young Na-mi’s lateness is contrasted with her adult-self constantly chastises her daughter for the same thing. Also young Na-mi complains she doesn’t have ‘cool’ clothes like her friends, while in adulthood she tries on her daughter’s school uniform only to be caught red-handed.

Na-mi must find her old friends, and in the process rediscover herself

Na-mi must find her old friends, and in the process rediscover herself

The journey of meeting new friends is joyous to see unfold. Young Jang-mi (Go Soo-hee (고수희) is a large girl desperate for surgery and loves fake eyelashes; young Jin-hee (Hong Jin-hee (홍진희) has the filthiest mouth in town; young Geum-ok (Nam Bo-ra (남보라) has dreams of becoming an author; young Bok-hee (Kim Bo-mi-I (김보미) plans to be the next Miss Korea; pretty Su-ji (Min Hyo-rin (민효린) is quiet and intense; and leader young Choon-hwa (Kang So-ra (강소라) is the powerful authority figure. The trials and tribulations that bring these characters together and bind them is a nostalgic love letter to the teenage years and to the 1960s. A political context is also comedically interrogated, as the group of girls (now called ‘Sunny’) face off against a rival group, as too do protestors and government forces in the same area. While the girls slap and pull hair, the moves are mirrored in the violent protest and pokes fun at power struggles at all levels. It’s also the music and dance of the era that brings the girls together, providing a great soundtrack to the coming-of-adolescent-age segment.

The girls become close friends through song, dance and school life

The girls become close friends through song, dance and school life

However, rediscovering Na-mi’s friends is equally as humorous and poignant. For some, life has been kind; for others, radically different from the plans they had as youths. For them all life is not what they had hoped for and their personalities changed accordingly, yet as they are gradually reunited they inspire each other to remember the hopes and dreams they once had. If that sounds sentimental, then that’s because it is as Sunny combines comedy and melodrama to great effect. The poignancy of rediscovering an old friend whose tumultuous life has resulted in hardship is intertwined with tongue-in-cheek humour that helps the protagonists to initiate change, and to remember the importance of friendship.

The women reunite and rediscover themselves

The women reunite and rediscover themselves

Verdict:

Sunny is certainly a ‘feel-good’ film that does a wonderful job of employing the nostalgia of the ’60s to help the characters grow in the present. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a film that portrays women so vibrantly. The tendency of portraying women as purely love interests or kick-ass chicks is completely jettisoned, allowing the actresses to simply be women in the contemporary world, which they clearly relish. In fact, there are very few male roles in the film and those that are are a far cry from the ideal man. This again helps to bolster the woman as they are not restricted by archaic notions of housewife/mother stereotypes, and can fully express themselves to the point that by the end of the film, they have all recaptured their true personalities. As Sunny is such a fun and sentimental film it cannot be as critical and insightful as other dramatic examples, such as Girl, Interrupted (1999), are. But then, Sunny doesn’t need to be as it’s such a funny, moving, uplifting and charming film in its own right.

★★★★☆

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