The South Korean movie “A.f.r.i.k.a” is a Chicks on the Run film, a subgenre that is often associated with Road Movies, since the two subgenres often features combined conventions. Chicks on the Run films have a long history, but those with a short movie IQ can reference the genre with its most famous film, Ridley Scott’s “Thelma and Louise”. Or, more recently, the French soft porn picture “Baise Moi”.
“A.f.r.i.k.a” begins the way all Chicks on the Run films do, with two (or more) unsuspecting friends, tired and beaten down by the world at large, going on a much-needed vacation (or road trip) only to find themselves in trouble because of nothing they did, but because of who they are (i.e. women). In this case, the heroine of “A.f.r.i.k.a” are two 20-something friends, Ji-won (Yu-won Lee) and So-hyun (Min-sun Kim), who are on their way to the beach in a car that So-hyun borrowed from her boyfriend. As it turns out, the boyfriend had stolen the car from a man who has just won two guns in a poker game. The guns belong to a crooked cop and a gangster who is supposed to give the gun to another gangster as a gift, and both men needs their weapons back badly.
So-hyun discovers the guns while on the road, accidentally fires off one round into the back windshield of the car, and cops discover the windshield and the stolen identity of the vehicle later that night. Now on the run, the girls are nearly raped by two men who they hitch a ride with, gets hit on by perverted old men at a diner, and ends up having to use their guns over and over again to defend themselves. What’s a girl to do in a world gone so, so wrong?
Before long, the girls have picked up two more women, both willing accomplices: Young-mi (Eun-ji Jo), who is tired of living like a slave to a couple at a diner, and Jin-ah (Young-jin Lee), a mysterious woman who pretty much blackmails the girls to take her with them. After they knock over some stores, the girls become the subject of a nationwide manhunt, are pursued by the crooked cop and gangster who want their guns back, and become overnight media sensations with adoring fans worldwide. And what’s the mark of international fame in the new millennium? Why, a website with thousands of hits a day, of course!
“A.f.r.i.k.a” is a comedy with pretensions of being something more, but of course it isn’t, mostly because the film’s writing is not strong enough to accommodate its ambitions. As a result, the movie is most effective when it goes for laughs, and becomes awkward when it meanders into drama territory. Incidentally, this South Korean effort is not original in the least because the same theme, and even the same number of girls, was already used in the 1997 German film “Bandits”, which declared itself a social satire on the media and fame and followed up on it. “A.f.r.i.k.a” is unsure about what it is, or what it wants to be, and ends up not being anything of note.
There really is no point debating the merits of “A.f.r.i.k.a’s” story, since the movie’s main goal is to draw in the 20-something crowd with its attractive 20-something cast and supposedly rebellious attitude. The acting corp is led by Yu-won Lee (“Attack on the Gas Station”), who plays Ji-won as strong and silent, but sometimes lacking in personality; and Min-sun Kim (“Memento Mori”) as So-hyun, the aspiring actress who doesn’t seem to have much talent or common sense.
The movie tries to make points about the male-dominated society of South Korea that preys on women. Of course this is easily dismissed especially when the girls go on their shooting and robbing sprees in order to pay for their fancy hotels and chic clothes. If you’re going to make a movie about women who bucks the system in the name of fairness, then for God’s sake don’t make them act so “girlish”. The writing makes the girls too one-dimensional, and there is no evolution to their characters; the women open the film as one type of person and end it the same way, with no character arcs in-between.
Direction by Seung-soo Shin (“My Old Sweetheart”) is competent, but nothing extraordinary. The movie’s action scenes are unconvincing, and the chase across South Korea lacks coherence. The girls pop up in one city after another, do a little crime here and there, and disappear only to show up in another locale. Although I did find the movie’s premise — girls stumble onto guns, becomes powerful — to be mildly interesting. Perhaps this is coming from the perspective of someone living in the United States, where gun control is fought at every turn, and getting a black market gun is as easy as going to the local corner grocery and picking up a loaf of bread. It’s a bit amusing to see a couple of stray guns cause so much havoc.
For those of you wondering, the movie’s title is an acronym for “Adoring Four Revolutionary Idol Korean Association”, the name of the foursome’s Internet fan club. I know, the name doesn’t actually make sense, but I suppose it’s translated from Korean, and it must have made sense in its original format. At least I hope it did.
Seung-Soo Shin (director)
CAST: Yu-won Lee …. Ji-won
Min-sun Kim …. So-hyun
Eun-ji Jo …. Young-mi
Young-jin Lee …. Jin-ah