Hyo-joo (played by Kim Ha-neul) is a smart, in-charge woman who has...nothing. Really. Hyo-joo is only just barely on the tenure track at the high school where she teaches chemistry. She also has a terrible boyfriend, Sang-woo (played by Lee Hee-joon), who appears to have wandered in from a Hong Sang-soo film. Adding insult to injury, Hyo-joo is forced to compete with Hye-yeong (played by Yoo In-young), a pretty, friendly, sweet, professionally incompetent woman with disproportionately cool boyfriend Jong-chan (played by Lee Ki-woo). And that's before teenage dance prodigy Jae-ha (played by Lee Won-geun) gets involved.
In short, it's little surprise that Hyo-joo is, on the most fundamental level kind of mean. She's just sick of being stepped on, and explicitly disgusted by Hye-yeong's toadying. When Hyo-joo does eventually manage to do a good deed in helping to mentor Jong-chan, it's an achievement borne largely out of spite. Hyo-joo just wants to take command of her own destiny for once. Is that too much to ask?
The short answer to that question is no. The long answer, well, that's the breadth of "Misbehavior", which adeptly manages the task of juggling so many genuinely awful characters while still keeping the viewer engaged with what happens to them. By the time we're finished Jong-chan is pretty much the only character who manages to be sympathetic, and that's mostly because he was a random bystander to the train wreck that is Hyo-joo and Hye-yeong's vicious feud.
Which is an interesting spectacle in and of itself, simply because Hyo-joo is almost entirely the aggressor there, to the point we really have to wonder whether Hye-yeong is as awful as Hyo-joo likes to treat her. Should Hye-jeong be punished just for having the lucky attributes needed to succeed in a modern employment environment? Is Hyo-joo really offended by Hye-jeong directly, or more the idea that she has to be friends with Hye-jeong in order to succeed?
Jae-ha is the plot token passed between the two older woman in pursuance of revenge. And he's a study unto himself by illustrating another harsh reality- that a boy can be a dance prodigy from difficult circumstances and still be an absolutely horrible selfish person. It's fitting that Jae-ha is a full-on co-conspirator in various schemes designed by a woman, against other woman, when in the big picture patriarchy is the real villain.
...OK, not really. If there's any clear flaw in "Misbehavior", it's that the film does not easily lend itself to social commentary. The various characters are mean, less out of clearly defined reasons, and more just out of general sadism. This is the kind of movie where a bad boyfriend can behave selfishly, repent upon realizing he had a really stupid idea, and still it's gratifying watching him be humiliated as a man because in the end, we too are the sadists, who want to watch guilty undeserving people suffer for our own twisted amusement. We identify with Hyo-joo for all the wrong reasons, and that makes "Misbehavior" a lot of fun.
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] "Misbehavior""
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