December 1, 2013

The Show Must Go On: A Thug's Life

The Show Must Go On is definitive proof that Song Kang-ho is one of the greatest actors of his generation. It's a fantastic mob movie that, because of Song, plumbs unusual depths, too. What makes Song such a genius performer? Well, this may sound like a funny place to start but I don't believe there's another actor who can play sleepy (or mine it for its comic possibilities) as well as Song can. And there's something about all the correlatives that go with sleepiness -- overworked, overanxious, overburdened, overwhelmed -- that strike me as emblematic of our times. In The Show Must Go On, Song's putting that somnolent skillset to good use as an overextended mobster who is so sleep-deprived that he conks out repeatedly -- including at the driver's wheel of his car in the midst of a noisy rush hour.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Song's also a master of drunkenness, too, which when you think about it, is simply a gateway to sleep. But look at the variety of intoxications that Song can do: He's funny drunk, nasty drunk, sloppy drunk, violent drunk and, in one awfully humiliating interaction between his character and his character's daughter (Kim So-eun) -- who has him arrested for disorderly conduct -- contritely drunk. Song can make reprehensibly sloppy behavior consistently sympathetic. Naturally, Song can do much more than drowsiness and drunkenness. But whatever he does, this actor always feels like he's doing it right on the spot. Maybe that's why his drunken and drowsy scenes are so impressive. Both states give way to irrational behavior that's abnormal but still firmly rooted in who we intrinsically are. If you think that Song can only do showy stuff then re-watch his married mobster here when he turns on the charm for his wife (Park Ji-yeong), a woman who's got wise to his ways and wants out. Who else can mix lightness and desperation so effectively? How in the world did he do that? What'll he dream up next? I'm always ready to see.

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