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“Almost Che” is a Korean comedy that re-teams writer director Yook Sang Hyo and actor Kim In Kwon, who last worked together to great success on the 2010 hit “He’s on Duty”. Their latest outing plays on some of the same themes, again revolving mainly around mistaken identity gags, with Kim getting caught up in the 1980s student protests which helped shaped modern day Korea. Also starring actress You Da In, who recently impressed in “Re-encounter”, Jo Jung Suk (“Architecture 101”) and Park Cheol Min (“The Tower”), the film sees Yook aiming for the same kind of crowd pleasing, commercial touch he displayed in his popular “Hi! Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul” and “Iron Palm”.
Based around the real life incident in May 1985 when pro-democracy college students occupied the US Cultural Centre in Seoul as a protest against the country’s support for the Korean dictatorship, the film stars Kim as an unrefined Chinese restaurant delivery man called Dae Oh. Often dropping off food for students at the university dormitory, he one day receives a thank you note from the attractive Ye Rin (You Da In), and immediately falls head over heels for her, despite their gap in circumstances. Deciding to try and woo her regardless, he turns up to what he believes is a birthday party of sorts, only to find himself caught up in the storming of the US Cultural Centre with Ye Rin and her fellow activists. Mistaken for a prominent student leader and vaguely inspired by a book about Che Guevera given to him by a philosophy spouting professor client, Dae Oh makes the most of the mix-up and attempts to win her over by pretending to be a revolutionary.
Yook Sang Hyo basically deals in light hearted social commentary, with non-threatening marginalised figures trying to make their way into the mainstream and getting caught up in momentous events. That’s certainly the case with “Almost Che”, Dae Oh being a likeable everyman figure, with below average looks and economic circumstances but a good heart, trying to buck societal norms by getting with intelligent, middle class college student Ye Rin despite being warned off her by his delivery driver friends. Yook plays things earnestly and with a pleasant air of innocence, and like its protagonist the film is a straightforward and cheerful affair, mixing gentle, generally effective humour, shy romance and nostalgia.
This all works pretty well, the mistaken identity gags and Dae Oh accidentally doing things right making for some decent laughs, and his courting of Ye Rin is sweet and affecting enough to ring true. Kim In Kwon carries the film well in his usual bumbling but charismatic style, and though You Da In doesn’t have a great deal to do beyond fluttering her eyelashes as the object of his affections, it’s clear even from this that she’s an interesting and talented actress.
The historical context also works well to ground the film and to add a little dramatic depth, the on-going police raids on the building helping to break things up and remind the audience of events outside and the changes sweeping the country. Yook does a good job of recreating the period through fashion, music and television, and without making the film too sentimental for the past, it gives a solid sense of time and place. Of course, this does mean that the film may well appeal more to Korean viewers, in particular those old enough to remember the period of modern history, who will certainly be more aware of some of the references and details. However, Yook to an extent keeps this comfortably in the background, and there’s little in the film which actually demands any such knowledge for its drama or comedy to work.
Though far from outstanding, “Almost Che” is another enjoyable effort from Yook Sang Hyo, who again shows a talent for delivering amiable, if scarcely challenging or particularly creative entertainment. Kim In Kwon provides good value for money with his slapstick everyman shtick, and the film succeeds in gently combining laughs, romance and revolutionary spirit to fun effect.
Sang-ho Yuk (director) / Sang-ho Yuk (screenplay)
CAST: In-kwon Kim … Kang Dae-Oh
Da-in Yoo … Seo Ye-Rin
Shin Hyon Bin
Robert Holley … Professor Shane Phillips