Yeong-hwan (played by Park In-hwan) is an old widower lives with his family in Andong. He is in the process of moving out to rural Yeongyang county with his elderly friends- the aggressive Hyeon-sik (played by Im Hyun-sik) and the more sentimental Soon-ho (played by Shin Goo). Together they...mostly just screw around and do nothing of importance, just enjoying their mere continued survival into old age through a series of vaguely related vignettes.
"Be-Bop-A-Lula" is the kind of movie where I struggle to remember what the various plots even were, because that's how thinly drawn they are. The first one to come to mind doesn't even involve the elderly characters at all, but Deok-gee's family. There are a few sequential scenes that involve Deok-gee's son trying to prod his wife into sex. Also Deok-gee's grandson expresses discontent with having to go to daycare when he can just play with grandpa all day instead. Neither of these conflicts are ever resolved. We just see that the young boy is very distraught when grandpa finally moves out.
At first glance "Be-Bop-A-Lula" comes off as wish fulfillment for old people. Rather than feel thrown away by an unappreciative family, Deok-gee and his friends willingly leave because they want to hang out with other old people. That's good for them, I guess. Come to think of it, is that wish fulfillment for old people, or for the younger ones, who want to believe their parents are happily sailing through old age without needing financial or emotional support from their progeny?
This interpretation is complicated somewhat by the storyline that brings Deok-gee (played by Yoon Deok-yong) into the group, since he falls victim to a criminal enterprise and has to be rescued by the other three. Again, while that probably sounds like a good storyline, it really does just take place over two or three scenes at most, and then we're right back to the elderly protagonists hanging out and doing nothing again until their next crazy idea is introduced and resolved just as quickly.
Director Lee Seong-jae-I seems to be under the impression that watching a bunch of older men goof around over random stuff is all that's necessary for a comedy to be engaging. In all fairness "Be-Bop-A-Lula" does have its moments. The movie's very deliberate you only live once philosophy frequently results in the lead characters behaving rashly in a way not generally seen for older people in media. Even when their goals are explicitly dumb, there's definitely novelty value on watching them try.
But even all of these moments lined up next to each other don't really mean a whole lot, because there just isn't any point. The closest "Be-Bop-A-Lula" gets to catharsis is when one of the leads must confront the shame of his past. Once again, though, we're talking maybe two or three scenes that completely encompass exposition, escalation, climax, and resolution. When the stories are over before they've hardly even begun, it's difficult to be very emotionally invested in what happens.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Be-Bop-A-Lula""
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