[Previous Review Working Title: “GAGMAN – from Gagster to Gangster” ]
Film: Gagman (개그맨)
Director: Lee Myung-se
Venue: Korean Cultural Centre, London
Running time: 127 minutes
Shown as part of the Korean Cultural Centre’s season of films, made up of 12 monthly mini-seasons each featuring 4 films from the same director. In addition to this, the featured director will also be present for the final of the 4 films for a Q & A and for films to meet personally. So, look out for the most aptly named “Korean Film Nights 2012 – The Year Of The 12 Directors”.
It seems ages from when this comedy starts to when we have our first laugh, but it is in the beginning scene. It’s a scene set in a barber shop. This laugh comes at the end of that scene.
One of the characters in the barber shop scene is main protagonist Lee Jong-sae, played by Ahn Sung-Kee. Ahn Sung-Kee was already a big star and one of around 35 films up to “Gagman” – those films include the wonderful and original, “The Housemaid”. After this outing under Lee Myung-se’s helm, he went on to star in other films by him… see forthcoming reviews of “Nowhere To Hide”, “Duelist” & “Bitter and Sweet”. The other character is Mun Do-sok, played by Bae Chang-Ho. It’s interesting to note how Bae Chang-Ho was picked for this role. See this recent director Q & A for answers:
An almost trademark shot from our director follows. It’s a face against a totally black background. It especially reminded me of a scene or two from “M” – the bar scene in that film springs to mind, even though there were other reasons for that bar scene. For a little more information on that scene from “M” check out the link to Mini Mini’s interview with the director, at the foot of this review.
The second opportunity for laughter seems to hit us, the KCC audience in a scene which is set on a film set. It’s unexpected… Of course it is, that’s what often causes laughter… the unexpected. There are then one or two other moments. An actress and her eventual reaction to protagonist Lee Jong-sae is definitely amusing. We find out ultimately that he is a comedian and one could say mime artist, but with a passion for directing.
A cinema scene soon follows. The subtle comedy, timing and some would say, acting reminded me of early Woody Allen. The female interest (Hwang Shin-Hye’s character, Oh Son-yong) is introduced to us in this picturehouse scene.
I never tire of the piece of music, Bizet’s “Carmen – Suite #2 – Habañera”. That’s not just a random statement injected into this review. No. It’s a reference to that beautiful, yet simple tune borrowed by many a film. To mind, more recent films who put this to use are Pixar’s “Up” and Trainspotting.
Here though, set to this tune our main man and newly found female, Oh Son-yong wander down a darkened road. Words are exchanged, but not those one might expect from a newly acquainted couple. That’s not to say that the almost mandatory suggestion of sleeping together isn’t put to one, by the other.
It’s at this point that I spotted the sported “Happy Birthday” t-shirt on Oh Son-yong and thought, “Oh boy, it’s surely going to be her birthday tonight”… as the expression goes. This girl though seems to be a tough cookie, I’ll add and she’s unlikely to perform such an act.
Back at his bachelor Lee Jong-sae’s apartment, he tries to set the mood… a romantic one. He is quite the hopeless, but gifted romantic at heart and it shows – but his taste in mood music is perhaps not one to be admired. Think the “The Godfather” (?!)… But… it does almost work, as the tune progresses. I could give you the whole title (and artist) here but that would indeed give it away, if you haven’t guessed already. I wouldn’t want to spoil any comedy or general you may get from this moment. Suffice to say, the concerned theme is stated to represent love, if you see it on such a soundtrack. But when the piece is heard it’s synonymous with “The Godfather” for the wrong reasons… Or at least it is with moi. [Incidentally, at the very end of this article I have provided the track details so that any guessers out there can confirm their suspicions, or not. Or indeed, just for the most inquisitive of readers].
By a stroke of luck our hero soon acquires a gun and before too long he’s seen on a sort of mountain top overlooking a forest with the firearm. I even thought this may be a dream sequence… I’ll let you be the judge when you get a chance to catch this comedy, if ever you do.
In a comedy piece which would make Monsieur Hulot (aka Jacques Tati) proud we see him absurdly attempt to see if the gun works, with a half-predictable outcome. His inquisitiveness is due to – and falls in line with – him being a mime-artist-come-comedian, or comedian-come-mime-artist. The decision is yours.
Various antics involving the gun work in this film and perhaps none more comedic than one with him & ‘the girl’, Oh Son-yong in his apartment. Again, the character’s mime artist abilities merge with his real life ones.
Our hero is certainly an extrovert and therefore a little opposite in his various ‘ways’ to many others. This could explain why his apartment almost has that inside-out look. I mean, there is what appears to be a red telephone box, a park bench & hanging greenery for starters.
Talking of a ‘park’ bench, the use of the character’s name, Shanghai Park is used in certain role-playing by his now partner in (future) crime, Mun Do-Sok [aka Bae Chang-Ho]. Important to the driving force of the movie? Not really, I just thought I’d mention.
“But, what about the story and it’s forward motioning?”, I hear you cry.
Well. Our hero is so keen on making his beloved screenplay into a film he gathers together certain characters, essentially the two we’ve already been introduced to, Mun Do-Sok and Oh Son-yong. It’s funny to see Mun Do-Sok’s love for James Bond* and more so, Jack Nicholson. Indeed, ‘actor’ Bae Chang-Ho does a superb job, considering his background. Again, see the Q & A filmed by the Korean Class Massive for further information. It’s interesting to see the James Bond reference so early in Lee Myung-se’s career – this will become clear a little more if you decide to check out Mini Mini’s interview with the director*.
As well as James Bond and Jack Nicholson, this movie has many a film reference. Whether references be in the music, characters, lines stated or even posters in the background it’s clear for all to see.
Soon, Lee Jong-sae’s life itself begins to turn from a wannabe director/actor/comedian to getting involved in real life bank robberies… Mostly to good comedy effect.
It’s these robberies that brought back to me the Woody Allen comparisons in this picture. I was almost waiting for the use of the word ‘gub’ rather than ‘gun’ in the first attempted bank robbery. Any true Allen fans out there will hopefully get that ‘gub’ reference… If not, I’ll happily explain sometime.
Gun or Gub, it’s not important. What is though is that this talented guy almost fully turns into a Gangster… From a Gagster.
Like other Lee Myung-se works of film art this movie often turns to the unexpected. This, his first outing as writer [along with the aforementioned Bae Chang-Ho] & director is no exception. Yes, soon we’re witnessing a smile-worthy singing, dancing number.
Not content with just bank robberies (both our director the on-screen heroes) we see grocery stores being targeted – shops which, I believe are referred to as Mom & Pop stores.
Excuse one’s ignorance, but perhaps these stores are so called because there are kids doing the shopkeeper part for their folks. Either way, the latter serves as a great set-up for a comedy scene and indeed Mom & Pop stores would work for a description of such outlets. Watch as our stars attempt to steal, only to be taken aback & wrapped with guilt and so much so that they pretty much pay for the intended stolen items. Pure brilliance. [Not a spoiler in my eyes as still comedic on a second viewing, and not just a first… in Mini Mini’s opinion].
How will all this end? I have to be honest though, at times I was praying for the film to end. Even with all the humour-filled moments in this film it still felt overlong. But perhaps only as we’re used to the ’90 minute or less’ comedies these days.
That’s not to say that tiredness itself wasn’t playing a part with my body, in the film’s defence. I will say though that the ultimate ending could be looked at in two ways – one of the unexpected, or one of the hurried & lost. The latter you’ll understand if you’ve ever been in the situation as a writer where either you can’t fathom out how the story should end, or you simply run out of writing time. We’ve all been there… although the last time I did such a thing was back in a classroom. Again, in Lee Myung-se’s defence this was – and obviously still is (!) & always will be (!!) – his first feature. Either way, Lee Myung-se fans should find this picture interesting in many ways.
So, we are nearing the end of the picture and therefore almost time to leave this Korean Cultural Centre in London, England. This leads me onto a little International fusion which I often feel exists between our little country and South Korea. The fusion this time comes in the form of a seaside scene with our 3 main characters, complete with good ol’ fish & chips… yes, even wrapped in newspaper! Yes, ‘SK’ your films do impress we who reside in the ‘UK’. “OK?”
It turns out for our our main character that the fame he perhaps was seeking is found… complete with interviews [but those of a ‘police’, and not ‘film’ nature].
We do feel that he gets some recognition and maybe if he’s lucky, his name in lights (headlights perhaps… those of a police car’s!?) and already he’s signing autographs. The question is, will his autograph exist only on a fan’s Notepad or forever achieving Notoriety?
Find the following Mini Mini Movie, & other Mini-er Movies (i.e. Trailers; Snippets) at:
“Myung-se Mini Mini Moment”
Whether the similarity between the main character’s name of Lee Jong-sae and our director Lee Myung-se’s is coincidental, it’s clear that he has gone on to achieve bigger and better films, putting every technique under the sun to use. Even if the character’s name is in no way linked to Lee Myung-se’s I did gently probe him about the film and the character in my interview*.
First and Foremost [although almost Last in this article!], many thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre, London for arranging this interview and allowing it to take place.
Mini Mini Movie’s entry Tweet Tweview [Yes, you too can Tweet a review to win a brand new DVD – something the KCC offer after every screening!]…:
“@KCCUK Mini-Review-“GAGMAN”: A Gag-star who turns into a Gangster, but all he really wanted to be was a Guest-star in a film of his life”
** “Love Theme from the Godfather” by Nino Rota