Sunday, July 19, 2009

DANCE DANCE (Korea; 1999)

D: Moon Seong-wook

Korea's film industry was by the autumn of 1999 taking toddler steps toward the Great Renaissance, but domestic audiences still had to contend with the kind of bland, clich├ęd, low-calorie snack films that Chungmuro had been cranking out for years, movies which all but dared viewers to spend their entertainment money on flashier import fare. DANCE DANCE is just such a film, a warmly-photographed, "feel-good" underdog dance musical fronted by two attractive leads (Whang In-yeong, Yang Dong-kun) who unfortunately don't dance very well, or act very well. Whang's an almost-pro dancer uncertain of her desire to attend school overseas; Yang's a hunky med student who simply must dance after witnessing one of her solo workouts. Her motley crew of dance schoolmates want to make a name for themselves. And, uhh, that's about it. There's no tension here because there's virtually no spark between these two pretty people from different worlds, and neither of them does anything--alone or together--that helps or hinders the fortunes of the collective, except for Whang's brief run-in with a lecherous out-of-town concert promoter that costs them a gig, a subplot which lasts all of 25 seconds. By Korean standards, this is remarkably free of melodrama, which is not a good thing in any film about people with a burning passion.

There is plenty of dancing in the film—14 sequences by my count (training, rehearsals and performances), with at least six of those blended into maudlin montage sequences. Whang's a beautiful woman, a weak actress and a game, if ungraceful, dancer; in the larger group dance sequences, she's often positioned off to one side in the foreground, shot from the chest up, or stationed rather obviously in the back row, the better to disguise her shortcomings. The climactic, multi-group dance performance is primo stuff because the supporting players and extras get to strut their very real stuff, but it's capped with a spectacular and well-choreographed full-group hip-hop roof-raiser for which gruelling rehearsal is implied by its intricate and effortless nature but never seen throughout the film. At the same time, the sequence is gestational evidence of the Korean B-Boy movement that would erupt only a few years later. Worth seeing for this sequence alone, but otherwise, an utterly forgettable film from the year that Korean cinema issued its primal cinematic shout-out to the world.

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