July 31, 2011

Miss Staff Sergeant: Attention! Demotion! Diversion!

Don't go into Miss Staff Sergeant thinking you're going to see a laudatory biopic of Lee Yu-mi, the first female soldier to make it through combat training in Korea's marine corp. The movie is actually an improbably entertaining almost-insult, that's sort of unable to believe that a woman could succeed as an elite soldier without resorting to feminine wiles. Lee doesn't screw her way up the ranks but as a platoon leader who gets her promotion by colluding behind closed doors, she does get her troops to bond by giving them fancy cookies followed by a pep talk on the importance of team spirit. Played by junior-model-of-an-actress Lee Ah-lee, this bootcamp Gidget hits all her military postures as if they were dance moves and shouts out orders like a squad captain for cheerleaders. Because of this unflagging perkiness, Lee feels inappropriately ambitious. Is she aiming for a stripe on her uniform or a varsity letter? After her efforts towards greatness are sabotaged by a platoon leader (Lim Won-hie) comically obsessed with her ass, she fights her way back into the corp by demanding solitary confinement then running around with a backpack until someone takes her seriously.

And what does Lee get for all her camouflaged efforts? The privilege of singing a misogynist marching song while being surrounded by shirtless men; the honor of defending the reputation of a slimy back-stabber who's getting the promotion she deserves; and a sense of self-respect rooted in the fact that she didn't get discharged like her daddy once did. That might sound like awfully depressing stuff but in actuality, writer-director Jo Myeong-nam has an incredibly light touch and this chipper movie is so tongue-in-cheek about sexism that you'll likely find yourself succumbing to the feel-good aspects of his underdog story. It's a tough cookie who won't route for Ms. Lee — both the actress and the real life woman she plays — as she overcomes each obstacle in her way. When the lady-in-uniform picks up a surrogate father in Sergeant First Class Kang Cheol-in (Son Byung-ho), you realize anyway, this isn't about the real struggles that accompany breaking through the military industrial complex's glass ceiling. It's a silly, sentimental, sweet-natured story inspired by a real trooper who deserves more than a little respect.

No comments:

Post a Comment