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'Boy, Goes to Heaven' conjures up body-transference fantasy tale

2005/11/04 | 906 views |  | Permalink | Source

If you are not a fanatic fan of the cinematic fantasyland, especially the body-transference genre in which a boy turns into an adult overnight, stop reading here.

Now that you've ignored the kind warning and decided to read on at your own risk, there's one more thing you have to do. What is the 1988 body-swap classic film in the United States? The BIG hint: Tom Hanks starred in it.

The answer is of course "Big", and this silly question-and-answer has something to do with "Boy, Goes to Heaven", the latest Korean boy-into-a-man film directed by Yoon Tae-yong.

Both films belong to the peculiar genre, and their backgrounds are set in the 1980s. Unfortunately, their similarity ends just there. While "Big" is a hilarious body-swap comedy that showcases Hanks's amazingly flawless acting, "Boy, Goes to Heaven" is a fantasy-driven melodrama that evokes not so much laughter as memories about the 1980s.

And number "three" seems important in "Boy, Goes to Heaven" as the boy in question is 13 and turns 33 before reaching his ultimate age of 93.

The "three" characters in the film also matter most: Nae-mo, the precocious 13-year-Old Boy played by Kim Kwan-woo and Park Hae-il, and Bu-ja, a sort of femme fatale by Yeom Jeong-ah.

The young Nae-mo, played by Kim Kwan-woo, is the only son of a single mother who runs a watch repair shop in a small town. He loves singing the popular songs of the 1980s and looks cheerful, but wonders why he isn't allowed to know about his father whom he never met.

Nae-mo is indeed an interesting character. Since he has an unmarried mother and thinks he understands the loneliness of his mother, Nae-mo decides to marry an unmarried mom in the future.

His life suddenly takes a drastic turn when his mother commits suicide out of despair and sorrow. Nae-mo is now living alone, managing his own household alone (don't ask why and how a young boy is left alone in the empty house instead of being sent off to an orphanage since this is, well, a pure-play fantasy).

Where there was his mother's watch store, a comic book rental shop comes in - along with its female owner named Buja who turns out to be an unmarried mother.

Nae-mo instantly falls for Bu-ja since she is the dream-come-true woman for his life. Not only is she an unmarried mother with a son who's younger than Nae-mo, Bu-ja is also a sexually attractive and sensuously irresistible lady.

The transformation happens at a movie theater (which is a symbolic place as it's the center of boyhood fantasy). When a fire breaks out at the theater, Nae-mo stays inside to rescue Bu-ja's son and somehow he dies instead.

Or so he thinks. It turns out that a death messenger get things mixed up and Nae-mo's real father also plays a role mysteriously to resurrect Nae-mo. The catch is that his life restarts at the age of 33 (body only) and his age advances quite rapidly (one day in his new life is a year passed). He is supposed to live until 93, and that's 60 more years, but thanks to the pact with the death messenger, it translates into just 60 more days.

The 33-year-old Nae-mo, who is now played by Park Hae-il, pretends to be his own father since nobody believes he's the young boy in a grown-up's body. And his quest for marrying the unmarried mother Bu-ja gains momentum.

The movie is supposed to feature Nae-mo's pure emotions. He is not only in love with Bu-ja but also protects the unmarried mother and becomes a father for her son, who needs a father like he did.

But Nae-mo's pure-heart aspect is sidelined not least because of the Bu-ja character played by Yeom. Bu-ja's nightly job (she's already the so-called two-job member in the 1980s in Korea) is singing in a tawdry dance club, and her gorgeous appearance and strong sexuality as a single mother in her mid-30s virtually obliterates the simple boyhood purity.

Another not-so-kiddie problem is that Bu-ja has sex with Nae-mo, falsely believing he's a grown-up. And even before she unknowingly commits the child molestation crime, she says she could have married the young Nae-mo, who truly and wholeheartedly loved her, if she had waited for just seven years - the time when Nae-mo turns 20 and becomes eligible as a husband. Bu-ja is not a pedophile but she clearly - and at least initially - doesn't have motives as pure-hearted as Nae-mo's.

In all fairness, Kim Kwan-woo's acting as the young Nae-mo is impressive and believable. Park Hae-il, one of Korea's top-rated actors, is also true to form and fame.

But Yeom's sexual appeal is too strong and too much emphasized in a hackneyed fashion. Some wonder why Yeom keeps taking up such roles involving kids and yet her image on the big screen is still directed towards her sexual attractiveness.

No big deal. Director Yoon emphasized the film is designed as a fantasy tale for adults, meaning that you are not allowed to ask too many questions. Given that actor Park is dubbed "Korea's Tom Hanks" in the film's official PR brochure, director Yun seems to hope that "Boy, Goes to Heaven" would emulate the classic body-swap comedy "Big". But that is just a big fantasy.

By Yang Sung-jin

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