April 11, 2015

The Beat Goes On: Actually, the Beat Barely Gets Started

I'm a little perplexed by The Beat Goes On. The movie bills itself as Korea's first full-length feature focused on hip-hop but even though most of the characters are wannabe rappers, we only get to hear one actual (not-too-catchy) song and there's a criminal lack of bling. You could say director Byun Sung-hyun's movie is a light satire — considering its ragtag bunch of poseurs are constantly forging new alliances based on the idea that stupidity means trustworthy — but even after factoring in actor Bong Tae-gyu's rubbery face and actress Kwak Ji-min's ditzy deadpan, you never sense Byun's lampooning the industry and its players because an innocent earnestness underscores the comedy and drama alike. You feel Byun appreciates the absurdities in life yet lacks the critical acumen to cut the biz to shreds.

A true look at hip-hop music should include concert footage, perhaps political messaging, montages of personal excesses (drugs, alcohol, shopping sprees, awards, crazed fans), maybe the evolution of a sound, a look, a clothing line, a counter culture. Yet The Beat Goes On shrinks its competitive woes about who gets the job and shirks its careerist story for junior high backstabbing. Its boy sees girl, boy's best friend (Lee Young-hoon) gets girl, boy bangs girl arc has an immaturity that never registers as emblematic of a larger world. These are small, sub-par lives existing in a very small subculture. Maybe The Beat Goes On is a micro-comedy?

This is clearly not a recommendation. Looking for something "like" this? Here's what I'd say. Want a movie about a music scene in Korea? Check out Intangible Asset Number 82 (jazz) or Turn It Up to 11 (heavy metal). Craving a comedy starring Bong Tae-gyu? Go see See You After School or even Jungle Juice. Written off this cast? Take note: Kwak helmed Kim Ki-duk's Samaritan Girl; Lee stars in the indie gay pic No Regret. In short, I never write off an artist completely based on one bad movie but if I were going to make a bet, I'd put my money the actors, not the director, in this case.

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