February 27, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Seoul: Watching the Rope That You'll Hang Yourself With

There are two movies going on in Bae Hyeong-jun's oddball Once Upon a Time in Seoul (a.k.a. Boys Don't Cry). One concerns two orphaned teens (Lee Wan and Song Chang-ui) peddling stolen goods alongside a crew of young misfits in the black market of post-war Korea; the other concerns two 20-somethings living out the same plot with kids and middle-aged adults. This freaky double-take is what happens when you cast actors way too old for their parts. A story of youth becomes a story of late bloomers; innocent children morph into incompetent grownups. And that's just the beginning. Since the one female gang-member (Park Grina) dresses like a boy and appears twenty years older from certain angles, the two lead characters now appear to have either latent homosexual tendencies or a mother complex. Actually, the man-child played by Song might be looking for a father figure too since he's clearly enamored of one kick-ass street thug (Ahn Kil-kang) who's mastered the bullwhip and the swagger. In a movie like this, action sequences can make you forgive and forget but the big final fight scene here -- in which the upstart and an evil crime boss duel with whips instead of knives -- is mostly memorable for being so anti-climatic.

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