Yongsoon (played by Lee Soo-kyung-I) is a generally crabby teenager. She lives in the middle of nowhere, resents the childhood loss of her mother (played by Lee Wun-woo), is mad about the apparent indifference of her father (played by Choi Deok-moon), and has ultimately decided the best way to spend her time right now is away from home. It is from this backdrop that Yongsoon decides to join the summer running squad, and it is in this capacity that she becomes close to her coach (played by Park Keun-rok). That doesn't end well, as it gives Yongsoon a weapon with which to further badger people.
There's no getting around it- Yongsoon is a genuinely unpleasant self-centered person, with no real redeeming qualities. The mean-spirited snipes she gives out to other characters are completely disproportionate to anything they could have done to offend her. Most of the characters in "Yongsoon" don't even have names. They're merely defined by the generally antagonistic relationships they have with Yongsoon herself and are, for their best efforts, unable to serve a useful purpose.
The English teacher (played by Choi Yeo-jin) is the best of the bunch. She makes a sincere effort to be some kind of guiding influence mainly because it's her job, dismissing Yongsoon's more emotional outbursts as generic teen angst. This is indeed exactly what they are, but therein lies the problem. The single best way to insure that a surly teenager continues to misbehave is to condescend to them, as they are both easily offended and highly illogical.
This left me feeling fairly torn about "Yongsoon" overall. It's easily one of the most accurate movies I've ever seen about unruly teenagers, in that writer/director Shin Joon states pretty flatly that there is not, in fact, a solution to the Yongsoon problem. At least, not a solution over which anyone has any realistic control. Yongsoon intentionally stalls when it comes to threatening her coach, because she knows that taking her threats to the next level will necessitate producing evidence that may prove she has no actual leverage at all.
And that sense of powerlessness is what Yongsoon was really rebelling against all along. Hence my ambivalence. "Yongsoon" is all about Yongsoon's deadly serious war against anyone and anything that runs across her path. She's destructive in the same sense that a hurricane is destructive, which is why most characters simply try to stay out of her way. The ones who don't, sooner or later, regret the experience, and only the most diehard friends stick up for her through everything.
The experience is inherently unpleasant. Even brief moments of comic relief can't really detract from Yongsoon's essential meanness. The most obvious purpose I can see to "Yongsoon" is that it acts as a sort of instructional video to anyone who might be considering a career that involves a lot of social interaction with teenagers. Sure, some of them are nice. But be forewarned- it's the Yongsoons that are going to keep you up at night, usually for the worst possible reasons.
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. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Yongsoon""
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