The Korean action-comedy “Spin Kick” is what you would call a safe bet. It’s highly predictable, formulaic, and there are few people who don’t know how it’ll all end, or even how it’ll get there. Of course predictability isn’t such a bad thing if done correctly. “Spin Kick” is basically another version of “The Bad News Bears”, where an upstart team of losers coached by a has-been must come together to defeat the Unbeatable Opponent in the Big Game.
The film stars Dong-wan Kim as Yong-gaek, the leader of a high school gang who reluctantly joins the Taekwondo team after his gang puts most of the Taekwondo students in the hospital. Actually, Yong-gaek is content to go through life as an aimless thug; that is, until one of his buddies, Jung-dae (Tae-hyeon Kim, “Slave Love”), is pressured to get his life together by his girlfriend, who tells him she’s pregnant and that she’ll leave him if he doesn’t shape up. Being that they’re buds, Yong-gaek joins Jung-dae in agreeing to join the Taekwondo team in order to keep from being expelled.
Not surprisingly, recruiting well-known thugs to join the team doesn’t sit well with Min-kyu (Bin Hyeon), the strait-laced student who is one of only two students still left on the team. The other one is Sung-wan (Jae-hyeong Jeon, “Wet Dreams”), the team’s wimpy bench warmer. Helping to facilitate the construction of the new team is Su-bin (An Jo, “Wishing Stairs”), a student who has emotional investment in the team’s success. To no one’s surprise, the thugs realize they like Taekwondo, and by film’s end they are facing off against the ruthless team from a rival school in the inevitable Big Game.
Without belaboring the point too much, there’s little about “Spin Kick’s” script that will win any awards for originality. It’s strictly formulaic stuff, although there is curiously a lack of resolution in the love triangle between reformed thug Yong-gaek, Su-bin, and the serious-minded Min-kyu. The film hints at romance, but seems unable to fully commit. The film also introduces another member of the team, a tall ballet dancer, much too late. So late, in fact, that besides his name (Suk-bong) we know absolutely nothing about him.
And because “Spin Kick” is a South Korean film, there is of course last-minute High Melodrama just for the heck of it. (Because, you know, if there weren’t any obscenely inappropriate melodrama the filmmakers would probably lose their right to write/direct a South Korean movie ever again. I’m pretty sure this is a law over there.) Fortunately the High Melodrama involves a second-tier character, so it doesn’t have quite as shocking an impact as, say, the abhorrent abortion subplot of the gross-out comedy “Sex is Zero”. (And if you were wondering, the abortion subplot of “Sex is Zero” has now become the benchmark by which I measure all Last-Minute High Melodrama subplots in Asian films.)
All of the above isn’t to say “Spin Kick” isn’t worth your time. It’s a reasonably entertaining film, with some nice comedy in the beginning and decent action throughout. In a case of, “Thank God there’s no unnecessary CGI”, the Taekwondo matches are choreographed to be as realistic as possible, with only a couple of minor exceptions, such as when Suk-bong seems to defy gravity in a match. And while leading man Dong-wan Kim is probably not as good as one would have liked (in fact, for my money the better choice would have been to switch Bin Hyeon and Dong-wan Kim around), he’s not completely terrible.
As previously mentioned, the script has a problem with introducing plots but failing to commit fully to them. For instance, Min-kyu seems to have a personal vendetta against the Rival School and its champion, but we never learn what those things are. Ditto to the burgeoning love triangle, which gets lost in all the kicking and punching of the Third Act. Then again, the film does do some things right. Jung-dae’s scenes with his pregnant girlfriend are quite heartwarming, with the girlfriend putting on a tough act to spur Jung-dae to find his potential. Also, the exasperated school Principal makes for excellent comic relief without being odious.
Overall, one should be satisfied that “Spin Kick” is more entertaining than not. While formulaic to the core, underdog stories are inherently enjoyable, and our gang of high school students and their washed up coach are certainly up to the task. It helps that not a whole lot is expected of them, or of the film itself. Then again, there’s only so many ways you can make a “Bad News Bears” movie and still keep the film’s spirit.
(Although it’s interesting to note that while the “Bad News Bears” popularized the conventions of the genre, it was also the first (and, by my memory, last) movie to break the mold. Or did you think the Bears won that Big Game?)
Sang-guk Nam (director)
CAST: Dong-wan Kim …. Yong-gaek
Bin Hyeon …. Min-kyu
An Jo …. Su-bin
Tae-hyeon Kim …. Jung-dae
Ji-yun Mun …. Hyuk-soo
Jae-hyeong Jeon …. Sung-wan
Ki-woo Lee …. Suk-bong