8th March 2011
When most people think of Yoo Ji-tae, the think of the actor who debuted in Bye, June back in 1998, made a name for himself in Attack the Gas Station in ‘99 and followed that up with major roles in a trio of films (Ditto, One Fine Spring Day and Oldboy) that landed him a permanent place among the top stars of Korea. What most people don’t realize is that Yoo also has a passion for directing and has helmed a number of award-winning short films. The first of these was the 40-minute short Bike Boy in 2003 which won an Audience Pick award for short films at the Pusan International Film Festival where it originally screened and it went on to open in festivals Hong Kong and Japan. It is the story of a boy named Min-soo who is in his final year of elementary school. He stands on the brink of adolescence but he is not quite ready to cross over. He is a child confused by forces within and people without that are trying to force him to change and to grow up. One of these forces in Ki-ran, a girl in his class. She also is experiencing changes in her feelings as well as she grows into young womanhood. She is also unsure how to express her feelings, but she seems to handle them in a more mature way than Min-soo whom she likes. Min-soo may like her as well, but he is unwilling to address how he feels and it makes him moody and sullen except when he is playing with his friends or riding his beloved bike.
The bike becomes a refuge, a way to hold on to the familar while setting new challenges for himself– such as attempting to outrace the bus. He takes time to train himself for this task, fixes his bike up, gets a haircut and even does something that makes him feel guilty and proud at the same time. When the time is right, he sets off to accomplish his goal without telling a soul and the finish of his personal race is timed to coincide with the arrival of Ki-ran at her home. However, her response to him and his new look completely robs him of any sense of victory and he walks home with a vague sense of having lost something. However, that is not the end. The final scene of the movie and the dialogue spoken therein brought a smile to my face and sweetened the story, letting the viewer that everything is going to be alright and that he can remain a child for just a little longer.
That final scene is simple, but beautiful and shows Yoo’s potential as a director that would be better realized in some of his later shorts. What happened in that scene? You’ll have to watch it yourself– I only give spoilers to endings of movies not available on DVD. You can see Bike Boy along with How Do the Blind Dream? (2005), Out of My Intention (2007) and Invitation (2009) as part of the Yoo Ji-Tae Collection. Search for it. You will find that it shows another, unexpected side of a man we have come to know as a great actor.