Holiday (2006) Movie Review

“Holiday ” is based upon an actual incident whose roots lie in the Korean government’s preparations for the 1988 Olympics, which saw them destroy countless neighbourhoods to make way for new developments in order to impress foreign visitors. In most cases, these neighbourhoods were squatter settlements whose inhabitants were forcibly cast onto the streets. This story is brought passionately to life by director Yang Yun-ho (“Fighter in the Wind”), who crafts it into a moving and violent tale of inequality.

The film’s plot follows Ji Kang Hyuk (Lee Song Jae, also in “Public Enemy”), whose best friend is gunned down during one of the clearances, and who is himself sent to prison. Here, he has the misfortune to fall under the care of Ahn Seok (played by Choi Min Soo, who starred in the director’s “Libera Me”), who just happens to be the man who killed his friend. After suffering under Ahn’s brutal regime, Ji and a motley gang of other inmates manage to escape, planning to draw attention to the oppressive and corrupt laws which have ruined so many lives.

“Holiday” certainly benefits from its real-life origins, and is believable throughout, giving the story an emotional punch. Although there is an air of doom hanging over the characters, and anyone familiar with the story will know in advance how it ends, the film retains a bitter, almost defiant feeling of hope, and the viewer comes to share the characters’ rage at the injustice inherent in the system which has treated them as animals. The escapees are a good mixture of characters, none of whom are the usual stereotypes which usually pop up in such films, and thankfully the director steers away from whitewashing their criminal backgrounds and tendencies. Although the fact that they have all received weighty prison sentences for relatively minor offences is frequently cited, the film pulls no punches about the basic fact they are capable of violence and immoral acts.

Lee Song Jae in particular is effective as Ji, a man who has had an unfortunate life of hardship and betrayal, and who the audience comes to root for without ever being pushed to like or sympathise with him through cheap emotional tricks. Unfortunately, Choi Min Soo gives a completely over the top performance as the hateful, borderline psychotic Ahn, wide-eyed and grimacing in cartoon fashion, standing out from the rest of the cast in an almost surreal fashion. Despite his efforts, ” Holiday ” works well as a genuine piece of social commentary and avoids most of the cliché which have plagued similar efforts.

Although slow moving, the film is frequently quite violent, in a realistic fashion and mostly in the form of vicious beatings or characters going down in a bloody hail of bullets. Unfortunately, most of the death scenes go on for far too long, with the dying men being afforded enough time to wax philosophical on the harshness of life for several minutes before finally expiring. These melodramatic scenes are somewhat at odds with the rest of the film and do tend to blunt its effectiveness somewhat.

There is a vein of bitter humour running throughout ” Holiday “, some of which does make for the odd laugh, but the overall tone of the film is decidedly melancholy and bitter, giving it a similar feel to Woo Suk Kang’s classic “Sil Mi Do”. The themes of corruption and justice, summed up by Ji’s immortal statement, “The wealthy are always innocent, while the poor are always guilty”, are apparent throughout, and though the film does wallow somewhat in this, it certainly manages to get its point across.

” Holiday ” does not make for particularly cheerful viewing, and is more likely to be enjoyed by those seeking a gritty, depressing slice of Korean social history rather than the usual police thrillers. Although a little overlong and painfully earnest in places, it is certainly gripping, and though perhaps admirable rather than enjoyable, it stands as a worthy, well crafted piece of heartfelt and politically-charged cinema.

Yun-ho Yang (director) / Yun-ho Yang (screenplay)
CAST: Min-su Choi …. Kim An-seok
Hyun Dong …. Lee Kwang-pal
Se-jin Jang …. Kim Jang-kyung
An Jo …. Ko Hyo-joo
Bong-gyu Lee …. Lee Deok-man
Eol Lee …. Hwang Dae-chul
Sung-jae Lee …. Ji Kang-heon

Buy Holiday on DVD