Seen in Jeonju

Modern Boy (2008)

10th January 2010

modern boyOriginally posted April 26, 2009–I was really expecting to like this movie. It has two actors I really enjoy watching (Park Hae-il and Kim Hye-soo), it was directed by a man with a track record for making good films (Jeong Ji-woo of Happy End and Boy With a Knapsack from If You Were Me 2) and it is set in a time period that I usually find very interesting. Unfortunately, it is the story that ultimately brings this movie down and, while I don’t regret watching it, the movie cannot be considered more than a pleasant waste of time. It definitely will not leave a last impression once I stop trying to figure out the gaping plot holes that really have no explanation.

The story revolves around the self-proclaimed ‘god of romance’ Lee Hae-myeong (Park Hae-il). Lee s living the high life in 1937. He is a collaborator, working with the Japanese Colonial Government as a City Planner. He also helps his father earn a small fortune by supplying him with insider tips for land speculation. With his powerful friend Shinsuke (Kim Nam-gil), Lee knows that he lives and mingles among the richest and most influential people in Korea.

One night, while entertaining Shinsuke, Lee is introduced to a singer named ‘Laura’ (Kim Hye-soo).  Hae-myeong falls for her at first sight. Using a complex scheme which involves kidnapping her manager/cousin, Lee is able to ingratiate his way into her life. He works his way into her affection well enough so that even when his deception is discovered, Laura, whose real name is Cho Nam-shil, still agrees to be with him. In the morning, she packs a lunch for him and sends him off to work in the government building. Later that same day, an explosion rocks the building which Lee soon learns was centered in his office and the remains of his lunch box seemed to have been the source.

Hurrying home to find all of his expensive clothes have been stolen, Hae-yeong  is off on an extended search for Nam-shil, now using the names Natasha and the-voice-of-Yoko. This brings him into conflict with both the Korean Independence Army and Japanese police who come to suspect that Lee has met Nam-shil husband, ‘Terror Park’ whom they believe responsible for a deadly terrorist attack in Shanghai.  He tracks down Nam-shil who denies that she had anything to do with the explosion and apologizes for selling his clothes claiming that she had no choice. He takes her home again prior to his being arrested by police and when he returns later that day, he finds all his belongs missing.

Supposedly, Hae-myeong’s actions in the film are to show how much he loves Nam-shil. In fact, they only serve to prove how gullible and foolish he is. That he would fall for her charms once is easy to believe. That he would be tricked twice is impossible.  Also, we asked to believe Lee’s transformation into a patriotic freedom fighter. At one point in the film he mentions that he had always dreamed of being Japanese because of the wealth he associated with them. Afterwards, it seems at every point in the movie, including the end, that he would throw his newfound patriotism away to live quietly in another country with Nam-shil as his wife.  A scene at the end has Lee ‘remembering’ a conversation with Nam-shil in which he professes that he wishes to see Korea free as well. However, this does not fit into the continuity of the film and is more likely a fantasy discussion which helps Lee rationalize his current situation.

The script also asks us to believe that Nam-shil eventually falls in love with Hae-myeong. I found that equally implausible. She is a woman possessed by her cause. He is a pleasure loving simpleton. Her apology to him for putting a bomb in his lunch rings hollow: “After you left for work with the lunchbox, I regretted that all I would be to you was a bad memory.” Excuse me?  If the bomb had worked as she planned, he would be dead!

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest problems with this movie were the plot holes. Chief among these is why Shinsuke set his friend up with a woman he believes to be the wife of a terrorist? Their friendship is extremely close. It seems to me that if the purpose was to seduce ‘Laura’ for information on her husband, Hae-myeong would have done it for the asking.  It would have made for a more believable, and more interesting movie. And did Shinsuke forget that he was the one who introduced them? Why did he act as he did in the prison? The whole interrogation sequence was hard to swallow.

The acting in this film is very good and the sets are extremely well made. However, the movie itself was fairly forgettable. Watch it if you can, just don’t go in expecting too much. 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

One Response to “Modern Boy (2008)”

  1. Seen in Jeonju » Blog Archive » Secret of Troupe 77 (1978) Says:

    [...] 22, 2009—There have been a lot of movies lately set in Korea during the age of Japanese rule. Modern Boy, Radio Dayz, Once Upon a Time, Dajjimawa Lee, The Good The Bad and the Weird to name but a few. In [...]