Seen in Jeonju

Ice Bar (2006)

10th October 2009

ice barOriginally posted March 4, 2008 –Before I begin a review, I have to say that I love how they weathered the posters above to make them appear older and worn. Why would they do that? Well, the film is set in 1969 and I think they wanted the images to reflect a little bit of age. As to why the film is set in ‘69, I am not sure.  In fact, it could have been set in any time period of the last century and the story would not have been changed at all.  It is possible that the producers were going for capturing a feeling of nostalgia that older viewers may find appealing.  I read a comment by a viewer that stated he would love to watch this movie with his kids–I don’t really agree. I think his kids would be bored as the movie does not have a lot of action. The film is intended more for over-40 adults –though others with patience can enjoy it for the performances of the actors.

The story is about a young boy, Yeong-rae,  living in Yeosu (the southernmost city on the west coast of Korea) who has been told all his life that his father is dead. However, he learns from a neighbor that his father is actually alive and living in Seoul. He is determined to go to Seoul to meet him and so to that goal, he takes a job selling ice cream bars on the streets of the city during summer vacation.  Yeong-rae is very clever and manages to overcome adversity through his wits and with swift actions. However, even he is not prepared for all the problems he must face to achieve his goal.

This simple story is, for the most part, enjoyable but suffers from a couple of problems. the first is that the various adventures Yeong-rae overcomes do not feel connected. The root of this problem can be traced to the history of the director, Yeo In-kwang.  This is Yeo’s first full-length movie. His other films (Peers, Driving Mrs. Park, Last Magic…) have all been short films and the different episodes of Ice Bar feel like short movies in and of themselves and any one of them could be removed without affecting the main storyline.

The other problem with this movie is the contrived tragedy.  Other, similar films such as The Way Home (which Ice Bar often feels like), have their share of tragic events. However, the events added to Ice Bar aimed at tugging on your heartstrings seem awkward and unnatural–like they were crammed into the plot with a crowbar at last minute. Completely unneeded and unwelcome.

The good parts of Ice Bar include the aforementioned acting–especially of Shin Ae-ra who plays Yeong-rae’s mother.  Ms. Shin has previously only appeared in tv dramas since her acting debut in 1987 and sporadically at best. However, she gives an excellent performance as the young single mother with a protective chip on her shoulder. The only person who really sees her sensetive side is Yeong-rae and even those occassions are very rare.

Probably the most recognizable face in the film in Jin Gu who plays In-baek, a young man who makes the ice cream bars for the owner of the small company–but also does odd jobs on the side for the owner that makes him wary in the presence of police.  You may recognize Jin Gu as the actor who played the quiet med student who encounters strange happenings in the morgue in the film Epitaph.

The other thing I enjoyed about the film is the set.  Although I saw no reason for the film to take place in 1969 except for older audience members to recall their past–’Remember how a train ticket to Seoul cost only 800 Won and we still couldn’t afford it? Those were the days.’–it was interesting to see how the recreated the past.  Most interesting are the frequent downtown scenes where people are selling their wares from carts on the street. In all of those scenes is a man in a cowboy suit advertising films. In some, he is wearing a large, cube-shaped sandwich board with different movies painted on the sides. In most, he is pushing an enormous cart with a large A-shaped billboard on top that shows the films being screened.  I resisted the temptation to pause the movie to identify the ads but recognized I Hate You But Once Again and Yu Hyeon-mok’s Descendents of Cain, both from 1968.  This movie takes place in the summer of 1969, so that would be about right–films used to open in Seoul first and then move out to other parts of the nation.

Ice Bar may not be everyone’s cup of tea for the reasons already mentioned but it is an interesting look back at childhood through the eyes of a child.  I do not mean to damn it with faint praise, but I would describe it as ‘nice.’   Nice does not mean special though and some viewers may feel they have seen this story before.

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