This Week in South Korean Film 12/16/2020

Sexing Up, Starting Up, and Swinging Up

As expected, there’s only a single new release this week, and it’s not a terribly important one. Things Like Dogs is a low budget crime drama about a sexual assault investigation involving minors. No cops, though, just regular people. This is a particular charm involved with low budget South Korean movies I’ve come to appreciate is that they’re far more likely to express an active mistrust of the police. It’s a trend that’s probably surprising if you’re only used to mainstream releases. From Veteran to Midnight Runners to The Outlaws to Miss and Mrs. Cops there is a disturbingly cavalier disregard for the basic human rights of alleged criminals in mainstream South Korean movies, with the impression always given that crime exists chiefly due to unreasonable restrictions on the police as opposed to their simply being disinterested or outright hostile when it comes to the people they’re supposed to serve.

In other completely expected news, Josee is leading the South Korean box office, despite only just barely managing to clear the one hundred thousand viewer mark after a week in theaters. Enhanced COVID-19 restrictions have given this December a very surreal feel when it comes to South Korean movies. This is normally the high season, when weirder movies can and do come out of nowhere to outperform expectations.

Last year, for example, it was about this time that Start-Up came out. The movie, featuring the beefy Ma Dong-seok as the headliner, didn’t have great expectations but it easily cleared the three million viewer mark. How it accomplished this I have no idea. I rather hated this movie. Ma Dong-seok doesn’t get any real fight scenes, the rest of the cast is played by actors much older than the characters they’re playing, and the story in general was a big mess. I can only assume the webtoon it’s based on was reasonably popular, and that people who had read it might have had a better idea what the movie was even about.

Start-Up is the only Korean movie currently available on American Airlines, though, making it the unfortunate rare contemporary Korean movie you’re likely to find in the wild with English subtitles. The token weird December release of 2018, Swing Kids, is findable, if you’re looking for it anyway. I would not recommend doing so however. I thought the movie was quite bad, taking its ridiculous premise seriously for far longer than was at all reasonable. If I had to pick something to watch on an airplane I’d still rather have Swing Kids than Start-Up if only because the former at least has weirdness going for it. Although the latter would probably work better as a means of inducing drowsiness.

Swing Kids was considered a failure at its time of release, although with nearly one and a half million admissions, it provides a useful yardstick for just how thoroughly decimated the South Korean box office has been this year by comparison. Still, it’s doing better than most of the other ones. And besides, when most movies can be streamed, box office shouldn’t be all that relevant to consumers anyway.