Most of the screentime in "Karaoke Crazies" takes place in a claustrophobic karaoke bar. The location is dark, dingy, and in general fairly difficult to like. It's easy to see why this particular karaoke bar has trouble staying afloat financially. The atmosphere stinks. What's more, located as it is in the middle of nowhere, the bar can't even afford feminine helpers to act as an enticement for customers. It is the place where we, the viewer, have to spend almost the entire movie.
Allegedly billed as a comedy "Karaoke Crazies" does, at least, have a decent joke every so often, mostly relating to the quirks of its various characters. They're all addicted to one thing or another, be it porn or video games to cheerfulness or even just vague abuse. These quirks mark the movie's main highlight- broken people coming together and making a sort of makeshift family after having lived some rather depressing lives.
But it's the story of how exactly this is accomplished that ends up making "Karaoke Crazies" fall apart, because the narrative is very slapdash. The more tragic backstories we learn the more obvious it is that they were contrived largely for the sake of cheap pathos. The exposition is extremely clumsy and in many cases not even necessary. There's this weird recurring conversation about a serial killer that's intended as obvious foreshadowing yet when the time comes for a payoff the guy might as well have popped out of nowhere.
There's also an odd voyeuristic quality to "Karaoke Crazies" that, while initially charming, becomes increasingly creepy as the movie wears on. The whole "feminine helper" aspect to some Korean karaoke bars is inherently rooted in basically sexist ideals. While director Kim Sang-chan acknowledges this and sometimes even offers a halfway decent defense of these cultural norms, ultimately they are not addressed in a very satisfying manner.
"Karaoke Crazies" comes off more like a stream of consciousness of karaoke-based scenes of varying interest than it does as a full convincing product. Consider one bizarre sequence that involves a woman stripped to her underwear and a sado-masochist invoking shamanistic rituals for the sake of perverse pleasure. That's...actually come to think of it I think that sentence alone pretty much gets across all that's going on there. There is neither build-up nor delivery. The scene is simply weird in a noteworthy enough way to command attention without actually being all that important.
And maybe that's enough for you. "Karaoke Crazies" did manage to win a couple of awards at the Bucheon International Film Festival this year, and it's understandable why. The characters are developed well enough, and the acting is decent such that I can see how this movie could stand out to the right audience. Even so, I am not in the right audience. I felt that "Karaoke Crazies" squandered a lot of its potential by focusing on eccentricities rather an actual coherent plot, and for that reason, cannot recommend the film.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Karaoke Crazies""
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