Films portray underbelly of showbiz industry

October 23, 2013

By Yun Suh-young

After riding cheap cars, ships and electronic devices to economic success, Korea seems focused on fostering a globally-relevant entertainment industry.

The country’s movies, television shows and pop music are indeed beginning to find stable demand internationally and this leaves giddy policymakers naming everything K-this and K-that.

Of course, there is a darker side to the country’s showbiz boom, which some critics claim are based on the exploitation of labor in both artistic talent and production staff.

And for every star who makes it big, there are a significantly larger number of dreamers who never make it.

As if on cue, there are three different Korean movies currently in theaters attempting to provide commentary on the underbelly of Korea’s entertainment sector.

Two are dramas while the other is comedy. They all attempt at conveying an intelligent message, but to varying degrees of success.

Rough Play

As the titles gives out, the filmmakers clearly wanted a movie that will create discomfort. That happens to be a talent of Kim Ki-duk, the art-house icon who wrote the script. This is the fourth movie by young director Shin Yeonshick.

The story is built around Oh Young (Lee Joon), an inexperienced actor with bigger ambitions than his circumstances allow.

The movie begins with a scene from a play where Oh, losing himself in the role, inflicts physical harm on an actress. The scene is inter-cut throughout the film to express Oh’s destructive combination of passion and desperation that continues to erode his mental state.

Oh eventually becomes something close to an A-list star. However, the pride that fueled his success now becomes the destructive arrogance that brings him down.

He develops a habit of abusing and raping women, embracing such behavior as if it were a status symbol. As with any movie involving Kim, the sex and violence scenes are long and graphic.

In supposedly attempting to criticize exploitation, it’s fair to question whether the movie ends up exploiting its own actresses. The movie’s predictability might also prevent it from aging well.

Although the movie deals with some pretty heavy stuff, young women might be flocking to see it anyway because of Lee, member of the popular K-pop band MBLAQ.

Genre: Drama
Release date: Oct. 24
Entertainment: 2.5/ 5
Cinematography: 3/5
Rating: 18 and over

Top Star

The directorial debut of veteran actor Park Joong-hoon, “Top Star” is another grim description of the entertainment industry. It’s more bearable than Rough Play because it conveys its message through sarcasm rather than shock.

The movie follows the story of Taesik (Uhm Tae-woong), the agent of top entertainer Wonjoon (Kim Min-jun). After Wonjoon creates an incident because of drunk driving, Taesik volunteers to falsely confess to the crime and serve the jail term instead.

After serving his term, Wonjoon gives Taesik a small role in a film, as he has always dreamed about becoming a movie star. In what would be predictable to any theatergoer who wasn’t born yesterday, Taesik rises to stardom and begins competing with Wonjoon for roles on television, films and commercials. And his vanity proves to be a bigger threat to him than Wonjoon is.

Of course, no conflict between male characters is complete without a competition for women. Taesik develops a desire for Wonjoon’s lover, Mina (So E-hyun).

Park shows some rough edges as a rookie director and his work doesn’t benefit from the unimaginative plot. But it seems that Park’s two decades of experience in the movie sector has allowed him to produce a realistic portrayal of how things are once the cameras go off. Park admits that he based the film on many of the real-life stars he has seen and worked with.

This seems to be one of those movies where the parts are better than the sum.

Genre: Drama
Release date: Oct. 24
Entertainment: 3/5
Cinematography: 3/5
Rating:15 and over

Fasten Your Seatbelt

The comedy is the directorial debut of Ha Jung-woo, arguably Korea’s most in-demand actor at the moment. And it’s probably the most recommended out of the three.

The movie is set inside a flight from Tokyo to Seoul that happens to be carrying an explosive mix of passengers.

In first-class there is the air-headed movie star Ma Jun-gyu (Jung Kyoung-ho), who just starred in “Mr. Profanity,” a Korean film that was a hit in Japan.

Then there is the Buddhist monk chanting prayers, a tabloid reporter who is obnoxious to flight attendants, and an ailing business tycoon accompanied by a secretary who could be mistaken for his mother.

Ma’s celebrity status is a source of pride but also a magnet of trouble. He is verbally harassed by a middle-aged fan who wants inappropriate things from him. The business tycoon is frustrated because the young flight attendants are busy pampering Ma though he’s the one who needs help.

Things start to get interesting inside the plane when weather conditions manage to worsen on that short route to Seoul.

What is supposed to be a less than a two-hour flight turns into a much longer one and the passengers find that the pilot is incapable of handling anything other than blue skies.

Ha said the script was inspired by the real life experience of his actor and friend Ryoo Seung-bum. The movie has just enough gut-punching laughter to make the ticket worthwhile.

Genre: Comedy
Release date: Oct. 17
Entertainment: 4/5
Cinematography: 3/5
Special feature: great music insertion
Rating: 15 and over