The King of Jokgu (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : Let me play Jokgu!

thekingofjokgu02 Before talking about South Korean film “The King of Jokgu”, I must confess to you that I do not know anything about “Jokgu”, a Korean term for foot volley. I have never played it with others, and I have never seen Jokgu games as far as I can remember, and I do not know much about its rules, except that players are only allowed to use feet instead of hands when they handle their ball.

But that was not a big problem for me at all when I watched this hilarious comedy film, which is probably the funniest South Korea movie of this year. Its premise is corny and ridiculous to say the least, but the movie cheerfully pushes its fairly predictable plot with its colorful assembly of likable performances to be savored, and it keeps its ball hanged in the air through a bunch of good laughs generated from silly and amusing human behaviors we can easily recognize.

When we meet our hero Bong Man-seop(Ahn Jae-hong) during the opening scene, he is enjoying his another Jokgu game with the other soldiers in his unit, but now his fun time is about to be over. This is the last day of his obligatory military service, and that means he will soon return to the society as an ordinary college student after his official discharge.

While he is happy to be back in his campus, things do not look that promising for him from the beginning. He is assigned to a dormitory room which he shares with three other students, and the senior student in the room sternly advises Man-seop that he should prepare himself up for the next step of his life before it is too late. His new semester seems to start well at first, but then there is a problem involved with his student loan; although he gets a couple of part-time jobs to pay back his loan, he keeps getting calls from the bank, which demands him to pay the interest as soon as possible(and it turns out they are very serious about that).

thekingofjokgu06But all Man-seop cares about at present is playing Jokgu. When he learns that the place where he and others played Jokgu becomes a tennis court, he becomes determined to get his Jokgu ground back. With a junior student named Chang-ho(Kang Bong-seong) as his bumbling sidekick, he petitions to the college chancellor, and he also asks other students to sign his petition, but, not so surprisingly, he does not get much response from them.

And then something happens to change this hopeless situation. During his English class, Man-seop meets Anna(Hwang Seung-eon), and he is instantly attracted to this pretty girl who is also the queen of the campus. While she seems to be in the relationship with Kang Min(Jeong Woo-sik), Anna does not mind about dating Man-seop as he desires, and that certainly makes Kang Min sulky about what is going on between Man-seop and Anna. As a former professional soccer player who was once very popular before his unfortunate injury, Kang Min challenges Man-seop to a Jokgu duel for a woman they both like, and their Jokgu duel unexpectedly goes viral on the Internet as everyone watching on their duel out of curiosity.

Thanks to this happening, Jokgu quickly becomes popular around the campus, and the chancellor, who also has a soft spot for Jokgu like any average South Korean old guys, gladly allows the Jokgu tournament to be held in the campus, so we get the familiar scenes of characters preparing for their upcoming games. Because Man-seop’s team needs the third member besides him and Chang-ho, an overweight female student named Mi-rae(Hwang Mi-yeong) joins their team, and one of the big laughs in the movie comes from the scene where they realize how hopeless she is as a Jokgu player. Yes, her appearance is certainly an easy target for laughs, but the movie never looks down on this character, and her growing relationship with Chang-ho is rather sweet to watch.

thekingofjokgu03 While you can easily guess how things will be played out during the Jokgu game scenes, the movie is still fun and engaging even during its most predictable moments thanks to its bouncing wit and energy. As a guy who has spent almost 15 years in the KAIST campus, I liked its ordinary but pleasant campus mood, and I could not help but be amused by a very funny scene involved with the open talk session between the chancellor and a group of students in the auditorium. While he may be an ineffectual chancellor who somehow got his position, the chancellor gives blunt and honest answers to his students’ questions, and that certainly makes his fastidious aid very uncomfortable.

As the hapless but lovable hero, Ahn Jae-hong instantly wins our affection in his amiable comic performance which will be a breakthrough for his career. Like Song Kang-ho, Ahn has natural likability in his screen presence, and you cannot help but cheer for his character even when you are well aware of a transient victory he passionately pursues. Regardless of whether he wins his final game or not, his mundane life with no promising future will be there for him as before, but he is willing to go all the way for getting another excitement from a trivial sport he dearly loves, and I must admit that there is something admirable about his innocent passion.

thekingofjokgu04 The supporting performers around Anh are solid with extra laughs for us. Hwang Seung-eon has a fun with her character while being credible in her character’s complicated feelings about two men around her, and she and Ahn have a surprisingly emotional scene during their English class presentation where they have to play a certain scene from the “Back to the Future” trilogy. While Jeong Woo-sik is also good as the third character in the triangle relationship in the story, Ryoo Hye-rin and Park Ho-san are fun to watch as seasoned college students, and they make a nice contrast to Jeong Woo-sik and Hwang Mi-yeong.

This is the debut film by the director Woo Moon-gi, and he handles well the screenplay by Kim Tae-gon with a good sense of comic timing as engaging our attention through his competent direction. While there are several exaggerated moments which may look too cartoonish for you, this is a comedy willing to do anything for laughs, and it succeeds in most cases while drawing good laughs from us. I still do not have much interest in Jokgu, but this is a small, charming fun to play and laugh with.

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