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[MOVIE REVIEW] '24 Months' sheds light on conscription

2007/12/20 Source

No phones. No MP3 players. No girlfriends. For Korean men, a nightmarish experience is often compared to the compulsory military service. Many say their freedom is suppressed and they are not allowed to meet their loved ones often enough.

Still not sure about how dreadful it is to serve in the Korean military? Just ask Psy, who was conscripted this week -- the second time in his life -- after months of futile court battles over whether he served his duties properly.

Exploring this theme is the movie "The Longest 24 Months" (Gidarida micheo), directed by Ryoo Seung-jin. It delves into the typical angst of Korean youth related to the military service -- the inevitable relationship problems stemming from the "out of sight, out of mind" rule.

Most male students head for the military barracks after finishing their first or second year in college, and many of them go through relationship troubles when they leave their girlfriends behind.

The film presents four different couples and depicts how they cope with the challenging period in a largely lighthearted fashion. The first couple is Won-jae (Jang Keun-suk), a college student who is officially in his early 20s but looks like a teenage boy, and his girlfriend Hyo-jeong (Son Tae-young), a physical therapist who is pushing 30. Apparently, their conflict revolves around their age gap, even when they remain apart due to Won-jae's military service. The second couple is in the same music band. Bo-ram (Jang Hee-jin), a shy keyboardist, has a crush on Min-cheol (Danny Ahn), a tall and handsome band leader who is showing affection to another female band member, even when he is in the military. The emotional tug-of-war between Bo-ram and Min-cheol is a little bit more convincing than other couples, thanks to Jang's delicate performances throughout the film.

A very typical love triangle unfolds for the third couple: Jin-a (Yoo In-young), who believes she's the prettiest and cutest girl in the world, and her faithful boyfriend Eun-seok (Kim San-ho). When her boyfriend has begun his service, Jin-a sends him a nice gift package including what she calls "Love Candy", but her devotion turns out to be not so solid when she feels lonely in the absence of her boyfriend and in the presence of his close friend (played by Lee Ki-woo).

But this is the fourth couple that goes to the extreme. Or the fourth girl, to be exact. Bi-ang (Han Yeo-reum) is living in her boyfriend's house -- Hur Wook (Woo Seung-min) -- and she takes full advantage of his absence to seduce another man and even invites him to live with her.

The movie does not aim high in terms of artistic achievement; instead, it attempts to mix the typical travails of servicemen with the emotional pains their civilian counterparts undergo. But the emphasis is clearly placed on girls who have to weigh various options while their boyfriends are away for two years.

Reflecting the military service's negative image, the movie portrays the barracks only in a comic way, an attempt to please male audiences who do not want to remember their bitter experiences, but at the same time like to see others suffer in the military.

Director Ryoo seems to have strived not to go overboard in his depiction of the four couples struggling with their own rite-of-passage period, but some details, especially Bi-ang's liberal lifestyle, and the mismatch of the first couple in terms of age, undermine the otherwise entertaining flow.

Meanwhile, Psy, the first ever Korean singer who served the nation twice, does not have to worry about getting jilted while in the military because he's already married.

By Yang Sung-jin

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