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Reality bites drop-outs in 'Bad Movie'

2004/04/08 Source

One of the greatest criticisms of "reality" cinema is that while it claims to picture things "the way they are", more often than not it is simply a vehicle for expressing middle-class and patriarchal values, or worse still, the ideology of one director or writer.

In "Bad Movie", director Jang Sun-woo ("Resurrection of the Little Match Girl" and Lies) avoids these pitfalls by handing control of the film's script over to the group of dropouts who star in this quasi-documentary about megalopolis Seoul's maggoty underbelly.

Released to a maelstrom of critical and social controversy in 1997, "Bad Movie" follows the lives of juvenile delinquents who roam the streets of Seoul at night and the homeless who congregate around Seoul Station. The film's story revolves around "Pretty", "Bird", "Princess" and "Red Byun", as they stagger from one disaster to another, enjoying brief interludes of happiness usually brought about by criminal good fortune (the scene in which the gang smoke a 10 million won check after burglarizing an office drips with irony).

All of the main characters - real-life runaways who have either visited with the "bond ghost" (sniffed glue) or been the victims of theft and sexual abuse - have nothing to lose, turning in high-energy performances that convincingly convey the brutal realities of their worlds.

The film is broken into loosely connected chapters and episodes by Lee Sung-gang's ("My Beautiful Girl, Mari") eye-catching animation sequences, with the story line progressing logically enough so that those without Korean language skills (the DVD version was released without English subtitles) can follow without too much pain.

The only moments of confusion are caused by the actions of the Korean Censorship Board, who cut "must-see" parts of the movie, producing occasional lapses into incomprehensibility.

In cinematographic terms, Jang and his team have crafted a grainy, "real-life" viewing experience which moves in sync with the action. One minute you're mixed up in the thick of things. The next, you're watching safely from a fly-on-the-wall perspective; a result of shooting scenes simultaneously using 8 mm, 16 mm and 35 mm cameras.

"Bad Movie" is a fascinating experiment in "open cinema" that offers a rare insight into the lives of Seoul's new underclass. With its catchy soundtrack and a cameo appearance by Song Kang-ho ("Memory of a Murder" and "Foul King") as a homeless man, the film is a worthy 122-minute journey into Seoul's heart of darkness.

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