South Korean film “Sunset in My Hometown” is a mixed bag whose weak elements are covered by its strong elements to some degree. Although it is too corny and predictable at times and I am not sure about whether its mix of comedy and melodrama is entirely successful, I was entertained by a number of humorous moments at least, and the overall result is a fairly engaging comedy drama peppered with some nice pieces of rap music to appreciate.
In the beginning, we meet Hak-soo (Park Jung-min), a struggling young rapper who has not yet gotten a big break despite his hard efforts. During last six years, he has participated in a TV talent show for aspiring rappers, but he already failed five times in a row, and we see him failing again as he becomes too emotional about a subject chosen for the final competition.
Not long after this another embarrassing failure, Hak-soo receives a call from his rural hometown which he left around 10 years ago. He is notified that his old father had a stroke and is sent to a local hospital, but he is not particularly willing to go there because he and his father have not been not exactly close to each other. As revealed to us later in the story, his father was frequently absent mainly due to his criminal life, and Hak-soo still feels angry about what his father did to him and his mother in the past.
Nevertheless, Hak-soo eventually returns to his hometown, but he only comes to find that his father is not as ill as he seemed. Although it is apparent that Hak-soo’s father wants to reconcile with Hak-soo, that is the last thing Hak-soo wants for now, and even Seon-mi (Kim Go-eun), an old high school colleague whose ailing father happens to share the same room with Hak-soo’s father, cannot persuade him to stay with his father for a while.
Hak-soo is going to leave the town on the next day, but, what do you know, he only finds himself staying there longer than expected because of one absurd moment of misidentification. While drinking with his three old high school friends, he is suddenly arrested by the local police just because he looks like a criminal suspect they are looking for, and then he is ordered not to leave the town for several days at least.
While accordingly stuck in the town, Hak-soo comes across several other figures from his past besides Seon-mi and his aforementioned three friends. They are Mi-kyeong (Shin Hyun-bin), another old high school colleague on whom Hak-soo once had a crush; Won-Joon (Kim Joon-han), a local newspaper reporter who was Hak-soo’s senior; and Yong-dae (Go Joon), who was often bullied by Hak-soo during their childhood but now becomes a local mob boss who is surely your average macho guy. When he encounters Hak-soo, Yong-dae becomes quite determined to settle his old score with Hak-soo, and that leads to a funny scene which will probably remind you of a certain infamous scene in “Oldboy” (2003).
In the meantime, we get to know more about Seon-mi’s old feelings toward Hak-soo through a series of flashback scenes. While she appreciated his artistic sensibility which inspired her to be a writer, she did not attract his attention much as looking plainer than Mi-kyeong, and she was certainly frustrated a lot with that. When she saw him from the distance during one evening, she let out her feelings in front of him, but he was only flabbergasted while not recognizing her much, and he remains rather oblivious to her affection even when he reads her first novel, which turns out to be quite more successful than it looks at first.
Eventually, the movie comes back to that serious relationship problem between Hak-soo and Hak-soo’s father. We get an expected dramatic moment when they lash out at each other, but it feels rote and contrived to say the least, and how they later come to get a bit closer to each other is one of the least convincing aspects of the movie.
The movie works best whenever it has a fun with rolling its various supporting characters around Hak-soo. I was amused by many of its hilarious moments generated from the comic interactions between Hak-soo and other characters in the film, and I particularly liked how the movie cheerfully goes all the way for broad comedy when Hak-soo comes to have a duel with Yong-dae later in the story.
As the story about a rapper, the movie naturally provides several rap songs as required, and these songs mostly function well in the context of the story. Park Jung-min, who drew my attention for the first time through his impressive supporting turn in “Bleak Night” (2010), is believable in his few rap performance scenes in the film, and I was not so surprised to learn later that he partially participated in the production of these songs.
Park’s earnest lead performance is supported well by a bunch of good performers. While Kim Go-eun and Shin Hyun-bin bring life and personality to their characters, Jang Hang-sun provides some gravitas as Hak-soo’s father, and Kim Joon-han, Jung Kyu-soo, Jung Sun-chul, and Go Joon are also fine in their respective supporting roles.
“Sunset in My Hometown” is directed by Lee Joon-ik, who is known for not only historical drama films such as “King and the Clown” (2005) and “Anarchist from Colony” (2017) but also intimate comedy films such as “Radio Star” (2006) and “The Happy Life” (2007). Belonging to the latter category, “Sunset in My Hometown” pleased me as much as intended, and I came to forgive its notable flaws in spite of some reservation. It is not perfect at all, but it did its job anyway, so I guess I should not be grouchy in my final assessment.