I do not remember a lot about the 1980s in South Korea because I was very young at that time, but I know it was a violent era when many people were injustly crushed by South Korean government because they protested against the dictatorship during that time. There were many big and small demonstrations on the streets, and the participants were savagely beaten and arrested by the riot police, and my parents’ generation remembers that era with that unforgettable smell of tear gas, which I have once experienced on one day in 1992 when I and my family were shopping at the downtown of Jeonju.
And that was the main reason why I thought the finale of new South Korean comedy “Almost Che” does not work well. The finale does not feel wrong in the context, but, in my opinion, it is an ending a little too feel-good for the historical background of the movie. Our hero smiles in the end because he is happy to know that his efforts are not fertile, but I am aware of what will probably happen to him and others – and the audiences older than me surely know that.
But it is just my minor complaint, and “Almost Che” does the other things well as a comedy which happens to tell its innocent comic story amid its serious historical background. When I watched its trailer, it looked like a silly comedy only consisting of lousy gags and cheap laughs, but, surprisingly, the movie somehow manages to make funny moments while also being adequately serious about its background as required. The result is uneven at times, but I enjoyed it more than I expected in spite of its several flaws, and, above all, I came to like its silly but sincere hero.
His name is Dae-oh(Kim In-Kwon), who has been working as a delivery guy for some Chinese restaurant. Recently, he has a crush on one college student at the campus just because she leaves him a kind note of appreciation for his good delivery. He has never seen her, but he wants to know who she is, and he soon finds that her name is Ye-rin(Yoo Da-in). a lovely girl who immediately captures Dae-oh’s heart when he sees her from the distant.
He is determined to win her heart right from their first ‘encounter’, but, though he is pretty simple-minded, he knows too well that she is out of his league. He is a mere delivery guy, and she is a college student of a good university in Seoul who will certainly get a job high above his shabby occupation. Imagine a pizza delivery guy who is a high school dropout and an Ivy League girl before graduation, and you will know what I mean.
Nevertheless, Dae-oh never gives up. The first trial to approach to her is failed, but he soon gets the second chance. It seems there will be some birthday party where many college students will show up, so he comes to the appointed meeting place while disguising himself as a college student. The problem is, he never imagines that ‘birthday party’ is actually a demonstration in code word. When he finally senses that he is in a serious trouble, it is already too late for him; he is swept along with the other college students and then he finds himself stuck in the American Culture Center with them while confronting the police outside. Although the story of the movie is entirely a work of fiction, such an incident actually happened in Seoul on May 23th of 1985, and it was one of the famous incidents during that turbulent time; the college students quickly occupied the center as they planned in advance, and they demanded US government to withdraw the support to the South Korean dictatorship during the three days of their non-violent demonstration.
Though he is at a loss about his big trouble at first, Dae-oh manages to be accepted by the other students as one of them through the series of his improvised tactics, which provide many silly but hilarious scenes under their serious circumstance. I especially like the moment when they have to negotiate with the US government officials even though none of them can speak English well. Considering that even a toddler can speak basic English in South Korea in these days, it is rather amusing to watch grown-up guys fumbling with their little linguistic knowledge.
Meanwhile, Dae-oh keeps trying to get closer to Ye-rin, who also participates in the demonstration. Partly inspired by a book about Che Guevera one of his major clients showed to him before, he becomes more active than the others to impress her, and it looks like she begins to like him, although it is later turned out that she has a boyfriend. Ye-rin is more or less than the object of Dae-oh’s affection in the story, but Yoo Da-in, who gave a remarkable performance in “Re-Encounter”(2011) in last year, brings warmness to her character, and she and Kim In-kwon have a sweet scene where Dae-oh shows her how to throw the leaflets effectively from the rooftop.
The movie mainly depends on a nice comic lead performance by Kim In-kwon. I noticed him for the first time in “Haeundae”(2009), a disaster flick I didn’t like a lot, and I could see that he is a likable actor. That aspect of his is utilized well in this movie; Dae-oh may be a doofus, but, thanks to Kim In-kwon’s good comic talents, he is a lovable doofus with heart, and we eventually hope that his goofy mission will be accomplished.
The director/writer Yook Sang-hyeon’s previous work was an unpleasant and lousy comedy “He’s on Duty”(2010), which trivialized a serious social matter in South Korea. Like “Almost Che”, It was about a guy in disguise(in that case, he passed himself off as an immigration worker from Bhutan to earn his living), and there was a romantic subplot, and he was also played by Kim In-kwon. “Almost Che” is not wholly successful, but Yook Sang-hyeo and Kim In-kwon do a better job of providing good laughs here before the movie arrives at an obligatory melodramatic ending as demanded. Sure, the movie could have been better, but its heart is in the right place even when its head is confused between artificial melodrama and silly comedy.