Seen in Jeonju

Dolai (1985)

10th January 2010

dolaiOriginally posted April 23, 2009–There are certain things I refuse to do. One of these things is to call the movie Dolai by its original English title of Crazy Boy. It cheapens the movie a little in my opinion. Even worse however is the strange English title the Korean Film Archives is choosing to use for this movie, Imbecile.  There is no basis for calling this film by a new English name, when it already has one! The IMDb says this film was also known as ‘The Fool’ which it wasn’t…ever. The Fool is the other random name that the Archives was calling this film until a few months ago.  I think the original Korean name, Dolai, works just fine and that is what I will call the movie throughout this  review.  Dolai is the representative action film of the 1980s, spawning three sequels, one each year following the release of the first and ending with Dolai 4: Dune Buggy in 1988.  The success of the movies can almost entirely be credited to lead actor Jeon Yeong-rok and his portrayal of the title character.  Jeon, still famous and active today as a singer, has the acting chops to carry the scimpy plot of the film and make it worth watching.  The action in the movie draws heavily from the fighting style of Jackie Chan–although the fights are not choreographed quite as well as a Chan film.

Although he is the star and the focal point of the film, Jeon receives sixth billing in the original cast lists. Ahead of him are the members of all-women singing group he manages, Thriller. Most of the members of the group treat him with very little respect, using him to carry and fetch for them as the hurry off to different venues to perform. However, although they are busy, they recognize the fact that they are just a third rate band and often wonder how they can break out of the rut they are in. Some blame the fact that they have no money–that it takes money to make money. Others blame their manager, Hwang Seok-ah whom they have nicknamed Dolai–which means someone who is foolish in Korean. One member, Hyeon-ju, just thinks they should work harder. She may be right. All the women, except for Hyeon-ju, are more interested in catching rich men for themselves than they are in a career in the music industry. This causes no end of trouble for Dolai who acts as their human chastity belt.

Whether they know it or not, Dolai is the groups protector.  And he not only protects Thriller. Dolai is willing to risk his life for anyone who has suffered an injustice. One of the women chides him and accuses him of thinking he is Superman whenever he comes back from a fight. But even though Dolai comes back bloodied and bruised, he always seems to win. Dolai inherited that characteristic from his father, a policeman on the force who was killed in the line of duty. At time he does carry this to the extreme, but he takes great pride in acting as the group’s ‘mother hen’ and Lord help any who would harm them.

It seems that the members of Thriller are constantly stalked by danger and actually do need Dolai’s protection. Thugs at a bus stop, pickpockets, perverts, burgalars and corrupt bar owners are among the minor dangers they face daily. More dangerous are the drug runners, rapists and the men who want to enslave the girls as prostitutes.  When the unthinkable happens and Dolai fails to protect one of his charges, she is drugged and brutally gang-raped. Afterwards, still in shock, the young woman attempts suicide. This seems to spell the end of the band. The members go their separate ways and Dolai takes a job as a mechanic. But there is still a chance that the team may be brought back together and unite to face the forces that have gathered against them.

Dolai is not a bad film. It does suffer from a few technical problems–such as absolutely no consideration for whether it was day or night when the film was edited together (this is especially evident in the events leading to the final confrontation–How long were they riding the motorcycle?)  It also suffers in its ‘action’ sequences, particularly when vehicles are being used. Car chases are way overused in many American films and tv shows–they were not as common in Korean movies particularly in this period, but director Lee Doo-yong tried. However, there is nothing thrilling about car chases and accidents when they seem to happen at 10 miles and hour.  The same can be said for dirt bike battles.  But these are minor points and I could enjoy the film despite these problems.  But there is a bigger one. Leering Camera syndrome.  The camera is angled in such a way as to be looking directly into the actresses crotches or straight at their asses–and it is done in a very uncomfortable style. It forces the audience to do the very action that Dolai punishes characters in the film for doing.  There are several scenes like this–the worst is when a burgalar breaks into the house where the woman are sleeping. Presumably the thief is rummaging throught draws and closets, however the camera ignores him and instead slides up the inner thighs of each sleeping woman and lingers on their panty clad bodies. What comes next with the long kitchen knife makes this scene even worse (even though the slumbering woman is rescued in time)  There is no nudity but I would be surprised if the actresses didn’t feel violated.  I felt violated just watching it…

With the suicide of young television actress Jang Ja-yeon back in March of this year, Dolai once again seems topical. In the movie, the owner of the club where the girls are singing approaches their manager with a proposition. If one the members of Thriller sleeps with him, then the club will help promote the band and make them stars. In her suicide note, Jang explained pretty much the same thing happened to her except her manager pimped her out rather than beating up the man who made such an offensive offer.

Dolai is available on DVD with English subtitles but it is a movie that is definitely not for everyone. If you are used to watching older Korean movies and are aware that the pacing and techinical factors of filmmaking were not at the standards of today, then you may enjoy the story and acting despite significant problems of the film. It is not a film I would recommend as a ‘must see’  movie but it was important at the time it was released and remains a good example of Korean action films of the 1980s.

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