There’s a great scene in “The Aggressives” when Soyo (Jeong-myeong Cheon), a teen whose parents has just abandoned him after giving him a handful of cash, asks Moggy (Kang-woo Kim), an older fellow in-line skater if when they’re older they’ll regret what they’re doing now. To which Moggy, without even having to think about it replies, “Of course”, then shushes Soyo so they can continue to watch the drive-in movie they’ve snuck into.
Such is life for the young skaters of Jae-eun Jeong’s “The Aggressives”, about a group of youths who live to skate and skate to live. For its first hour or so, “The Aggressives” seems to be little more than a series of dreamy vignettes, following Soyo as he becomes immerse in the outcast world of in-line skating. (Their biggest hassle? Finding a place to bed down for the night and getting chased by “The Man” away from their favorite skating hangout.) Soyo’s introduction to skating is Moggy and his girlfriend Hanju (Yi-jin Jo), a filmmaker with dreams of selling her extensive collection of boyfriend Moggy’s skating conquests. For Soyo, the life of a skater is more than a mild diversion — it is a complete escape from his crumbling world.
It is in the film’s second half, when a stint as a movie stuntman by Moggy gets the entire group into hot water, that “The Aggressives”, as well as the characters, are forced out of their carefree existence. And in the case of the movie, return to a more traditional narrative. Written and directed by Jae-eun Jeong (“Take Care of My Cat”), “The Aggressives” is a visually rich film that is shot at times like a documentary. There are sequences where Jeong dulls out the screen with drab green colors that strike the perfect mood and makes you wonder what she could do if she ever wanted to tackle a thriller.
The script by Jeong takes some liberties (for instance, we never learn how Soyo can afford to keep his parent’s apartment without a job, or how he stays in school), but it also turns conventions on its head. Of note is the film’s stab at a love triangle, which seems to be built upon and then headed toward a cliched conclusion. Not so. Like much of the “The Aggressives”, this takes a most unexpected turn, helped in no small part by the complex characters. There are no villains in the piece and all three members of the would-be love triangle are fleshed out individuals, and one would be hardpressed to root for either Soyo or Moggy to get the girl.
You can also easily understand why Hanju is in love with Moggy (she says it’s because of his complete lack of ambition) and it’s also easy to see why the impressionable Soyo would fall for Hanju at first sight (she’s cute as a button, after all). The fact that Jeong simply refuses to allow her characters to do anything that could even be misconstrued as formulaic is a major feather in the film’s cap. After seeing so many predictable movie romances (especially those in the teen genre) it’s shocking to see a teen film that bucks the trend so effortlessly, convincingly, and so naturally.
Unfortunately we don’t know nearly enough about all the characters to care about all of them. The most we ever learn about the other members of the skating group is that one of them tried, and humorously failed, to impress his father by showing him a skating trick. When they’re not skating, the gang bunks down wherever they can, from Soyo’s house to Gabpa’s park to everywhere in-between. The script also fails to fully integrate the Gabpa character into its first half and as a result when the character resurfaces to have a major impact on the rest of the film the audience is liable to wonder why such an important character had stayed in the background for so long.
There’s little doubt that writer/director Jeong knows all about the conventions of her film’s genre, which serves to help her eschew all expected narrative plotlines. Like the free-spirited skaters, “The Aggressives” has an effortless trait about it — its ability to go with the flow, never allowing formula (or in the world of the skaters, society) to dictate its (their) progression. The characters are believable, and as a result so are their actions. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’ll be hardpressed to predict anything about the movie from how it starts, how it moves, to how it ends.
As a purely skater movie, “The Aggressives” should please real skaters looking for believable action. Mind you, not that I know what “real skaters” want from their skater movies, but the film does seem to have a good grasp of what being a societal outcast is all about. In a trick taken from Jackie Chan, the film has a 2-minute behind-the-scenes over the closing credits that shows the actors actually learning skating for the movie. And although I’m sure there were real skaters working as stuntmen in some scenes (and in fact the movie shoot sequence might just be Jeong’s own inside joke), for the most part you can clearly tell that the actors do either all or most of their own skating.
Jae-eun Jeong (director) / Jae-eun Jeong (screenplay)
CAST: Jeong-myeong Cheon …. Soyo
Yi-jin Jo …. Hanju
Kang-woo Kim …. Moggy
Cheon-hee Lee …. Gabpa