Judging by the DVD cover, “Big Bang” is yet another Korean film which seems to have been mis-advertised as a wacky comedy. This is a real shame, as although it certainly has its fair share of laughs, it is a far more cynical and violent affair than the box art would suggest. Directed by Park Jeong Woo, a helmer noted for his sharp depiction of modern Korean life in “Dance with the Wind” and his witty screenplay for the cult hit “Attack the Gas Station”, the film is a dark satire which lays bare the sad fact that in a corrupt society, nice guys tend to finish last. In the lead roles it features the talented team of “Vampire Cop Ricky” himself, Kim Su Ro, along with Gam Woo Sung, who recently won the Best Actor statuette at the 43rd Daejong Awards for his excellent performance in the home-grown box office smash “King and the Clown”.
The plot begins with meek, rules-obsessed salaryman Man-su (Gam Woo Sung) having just about the worst day imaginable, waking up late for work, only to be confronted by his wife asking for divorce on the grounds that he is too boring, followed by which he is fired from his job for the same reason. Matters get even worse after he decides to kick back at the system by urinating on the wall, an act which promptly lands him in trouble with the police. While waiting to be charged, he meets Cheul Gun (Kim Su Ro), a petty criminal who seems to have spent most of his life in and out of jail. One thing leads to another, and after a series of mishaps the two end up on the run from the law, armed and driving a stolen police car. The unfairness of it all pushes the tightly wound Man-su over the edge, and he decides to set the world to rights, resulting in a wild rampage with his new friend in tow.
“Big Bang” successfully plays upon the frustrating truth that following the rules does not always lead to happiness or success, and indeed that these rules are all too often flaunted and exploited by those that make them. As such, although Man-su is a rather naÃ¯ve soul, it is all too easy to sympathise with him and his gradual journey from committing innocuous misdemeanours to full-on wide-eyed assault and destruction. Although the film does run the risk of pandering to repressed male wish-fulfilment, featuring scenes of him beating up his boss, shooting speed cameras and taking part in high speed street racing, Park holds steady, maintaining a serious edge and never allowing things to degenerate into farce. As such the proceedings have a surprisingly gritty and believable feel, and though the two protagonists eventually go too far in their anarchic crusade for justice, they remain sympathetic outlaw figures.
The film is funny throughout, though in a bleak rather than slapstick fashion, and it works as a dark comedy of errors, with Park piling on disaster after disaster for poor Man-su. At the same time, he mines the situation for social commentary and criticism which, though not exactly subtle, is heartfelt and rings true. Of course, things get more serious towards the end, though Park thankfully avoids wallowing in sentiment or unnecessary ranting on or overstatement of the themes of corruption and injustice.
Although the film is well made and gripping, with plenty of action and tension ensuring that it moves along at a fast pace, what really drives it is the dynamic between the two main characters, and there is a real chemistry between Gam Woo Sung and Kim Su Ro, with the latter on particular on fine, unfettered form. Their believable bond gives the film a shot in the arm, making its energetic chaos all the more effective whilst at the same time giving the proceedings a strangely poignant human heart. This helps to distract from the fact that the film is basically predictable, with the ending clearly marked from the first frame, something which Park unfortunately chooses to underline in bold type by rather pointlessly starting with the end and having the story unfold in flashback.
Still, this doesn’t really detract from the overall effect, and “Big Bang” is a very entertaining film, bold, exciting, and with the kind of refreshingly antagonistic edge so often lacking in Korean comedy. Like a male buddy version of “Thelma and Louise” or a modern urban update of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, albeit with far more in the way of guns, the film is an explosive satire which deserves to reach a wider audience than it unfortunately probably will.
Jeong-woo Park (director) / Jeong-woo Park (screenplay)
CAST: Su-ro Kim