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'Spin Kick - Taekwon Boys' mixes coming-of-age theme with taekwondo action

2004/07/24 Source

Taekwondo is Korea's representative martial art, which is also practiced by millions of people around the globe. Though the attack style is aggressive, the primary focus is on self-defense.
"Spin Kick - Taekwon Boys' ", which opened yesterday, is ostensibly about this lofty spirit of taekwondo, and a Korean youth's trouble-laden coming-of-age. Given that there are not that many taekwondo action films, director Nam Sang-kook has chosen an interesting subject.

In the film, Manse High School used to have Korea's top taekwondo team. But the once glorious team is now in total disarray: except for team leader Lee Min-kyu (Hyun Bin), other members lack the much-needed skills to knock down opponents.

With the national taekwondo competition just two weeks away, the team seems to have no hope whatsoever. But the team's poor fighting skills contribute to changing its fate.

Notorious school gang members led by Hong Yong-gaek (Kim Dong-wan) decide to challenge the passengers on the bus by drawing a line on the floor, daring anyone to cross into their marked territory. Some of the taekwondo team members happen to cross the line, sparking fierce fist fights.

The result: the gangsters beat the taekwondo students to a pulp. Due to the gravity of the violence, these toughs are now about to be expelled from the school and taekwondo team disbanded because most of its members are seriously hurt.

The plot secures momentum when the school principal (Kim Kab-soo) suggests that, to avoid expulsion, the gangsters represent the school in the taekwondo competition.

Much of what follows is about the growth of Yong-gaek from a school bully into a taekwondo athlete. Rivalry between Yong-gaek and team leader Min-kyu also helps roll the story forward.

"I have paid particular attention to understanding the inner world of today's youth, especially their desire to change and improve themselves. This theme is reflected in the main character Yong-gaek's desire to make a change in his life", director Nam says.

Kim Dong-wan, a member of the famous vocal group "Shinhwa", shows a solid performance as Yong-gaek, though his taekwondo skills leave something to be desired.

Although the ending is somewhat predictable, the film manages to tackle the central precept by depicting how the main characters come to understand the meaning of self-defense in practicing taekwondo.

Unfortunately, it seems that the film has borrowed conventional themes, characters and plots from popular Japanese sports comics such as "Slam Dunk". For instance, Suh Su-bin (Jo An), the taekwondo team's female assistant, is a character obviously copied from "Slam Dunk", and her role is ambiguous at best.

It also is annoying to see a high school student and his pregnant girlfriend living together quite naturally as though they were a real couple. That scene doesn't reflect the reality of troubled youth in Korea; rather it is just catering to the desire of youngsters to break rules.

Overall, the film is likely to appeal to youth with its fast-paced story and some action scenes. But don't expect too much. After all, this film relies heavily on the popularity of Shinhwa member Kim Dong-wan, and it is meaningless to ponder the shallowness when the movie doesn't care about artistic quality in the first place.

By Yang Sung-jin

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