Movie would be entertaining when we had known more of Korean habits. Still a nice watch to sit through, in spite of missing some of the clues
I saw this movie at the Rotterdam film festival 2013 (IFFR), where it was part of the Bright Future section. Before the screening started we got a heads up from the director about military service in Korea, which is mandatory and can only be avoided for strict medical reasons. He also enlightened us about the right that every private soldier has once a year to go out with friends and relatives. They get one and a half day off, and this film shows precisely such a leave period. It is partly based on his own experience with friends after high school. The rest of the story is invented, particularly the Dear John letter carried by the two visiting friends.
The original Korean title "1999" has a certain meaning in Korea, understood by everyone there. However, outside Korea he had to think of something different. He thought that Sunshine Boys very well approached the experience of the three friends as mere newbies in the adult world.
Apart from the title, he reckoned that many other things are bound to escape us Europeans. He mentioned for example the chest stumping, as one woman did to one of the three friends. Every Korean would immediately recognize it, knowing what it stands for. There are several other scenes that are considered hilarious by Koreans but regrettably lost on us. Yet, merely observing the actions and the dialogs, shows enough interesting material to appreciate this film. For instance, learning to interact with women and other coming-of-age issues are recognized immediately by either one of us.
The actors were selected via an audition, immediately followed by several days together while eating and drinking at the director's house. After that time they were very friendly towards each other, and working together became a very natural thing to do.
During the final Q&A some additional inside information came about. We heard that many private soldiers have a girl friend from before they were drafted, but a large percentage breaks up during or shortly after the service period. In other words, the Dear John letter may be invented to liven up the story, but is far from uncommon. Another interesting fact was that most of the scenes were shot near the demilitarized zone in Korea, yielding a lot of complications while shooting. The best example was a military jeep following them all the time. They had to assign an extra team to distract the jeep, keeping it out of the way for the shooting.
The festival visitors gave this film an average score of 3.796 (out of 5), yielding a mediocre ranking as 76th (out of 178) for the audience award. It was nice to see something from Korea again, but not interesting enough to give it a strong recommendation, due to many things I assume we didn't recognize as intentional ingredients planted by the film makers. In other words, there is lot of material that went past us. Above paragraphs mention a few examples of which I know we did not notice them. No doubt there is much more national folklore we missed. Not the fault of the film makers, of course, but less suitable for European distribution and requiring much preliminary information to appreciate it fully.
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