Start-Up (2019) ☆☆(2/4): A lame comedy packed with uninteresting caricatures

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South Korean film “Start-Up”, which is based on the popular online graphic novel of the same name, mainly revolves around two different dudes who do not interest me much. As a matter of fact, I did not care much about them or any other characters in the story, and it was pretty daunting for me to endure many cheap slapstick moments in the film which depend too much on beating, punching, and slapping in my humble opinion.

At the beginning, we meet Taek-il (Park Jung-min) and his friend Sang-pil (Jung Hae-in). Both of them are high school dropouts, and Taek-il’s mother wants Taek-il to study for college entrance, but Taek-il does not give a damn about his future, as shown from the opening scene where he and his friend happen to commit a pretty reckless thing with an old motorcycle recently purchased by him.

After clashing hard with his mother, Taek-il impulsively decides to leave their house alone, and he subsequently finds himself arriving in Gunsan, a rural town not so far from my hometown city Jeonju. As he comes to run out of money, he notices that a small Chinese restaurant is looking for a delivery guy to be hired, and he promptly grabs this opportunity because it will provide not only money but also a place to stay. The owner of the Chinese restaurant does not ask him much although he apparently sees through Taek-il’s lies, and Taek-il is immediately hired on the spot.

Besides the owner, there are only two people working in this Chinese restaurant: a very clumsy guy who is Taek-il’s predecessor and Geo-seok (Ma Dong-seok), a big, imposing chef who surely looks like someone you cannot mess with. The first encounter between Geo-seok and Taek-il is not very pleasant to say the least, and Taek-il is horrified to learn later that he is going to stay along with Geo-seok and the other employee in a stuffy place right above the Chinese restaurant.

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While Taek-il gets accustomed to his new job and environment, the movie also pays some attention to several other characters in the story. Although quite exasperated and frustrated with her son’s runaway, Taek-il’s mother continues to struggle for better days to come as usual, and it looks like she finally gets a good chance for that, but, of course, things do not look that optimistic when she later borrows a considerable amount of money required for that opportunity. As living alone with his senile grandmother, Sang-pil has desperately wanted to earn money for himself and his dear granny, and we soon see him beginning a sort of apprenticeship under a local loan shark.

And there is Kyeong-joo (Choi Sung-eun), a feisty adolescent girl who ran away from her home just like Taek-il. During their first encounter at a local bus station in Gunsan, she surely gives Taek-il a lesson to be remembered, and, not so surprisingly, she later gets herself into a big trouble due to some nasty guys she happens to come cross.

Anyway, she eventually encounters Taek-il again, who manages to rescue her despite being no match for those nasty guys. Although the mood is still awkward between them, Kyeong-joo later comes to settle in the Chinese restaurant just like Taek-il, and she becomes a little brightened than before as working along with Taek-il and Geo-seok.

Of course, the situation gets quite serious later in the story. Due to a big incident at the Chinese restaurant, Geo-seok’s old dark past comes upon him again, and we also get to know about how he got employed via a darkly ironic coincidence. As feeling more uncomfortable with the ruthless side of loan sharking business, Sang-pil becomes quite conflicted, and then, not so surprisingly, it turns out that his friend’s mother borrowed money from his boss.

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Around that narrative point, we are supposed to care about its story and characters more, but the screenplay by director/writer Choi Jeong-yeol fails to bring any depth to its main characters, and it merely keeps pushing them into one contrived moment after another just for silly comedy or blatant melodrama. While I understand that its story and characters intend to be broad and cartoonish from the very beginning, I was frequently annoyed by its comical depiction of physical violence, and I was also distracted by its superficial handling of the darker elements in the story including minor prostitution.

The main performers of the film are well-cast on the whole, and they try as much as they can, but they cannot fully overcome the weak aspects of the movie. As shown from “Bleak Night” (2010), “DongJu: The Portrait of A Poet” (2015), “Sunset in My Hometown” (2017), and “Svaha: The Sixth Finger” (2019), Park Jung-min is a fine actor, but he is mostly demanded to look sully and petulant, and I do not see any good reason why I should care about his character, who is more or less than an obnoxiously insolent brat. In case of Ma Dong-seok, he manages to acquit himself well mainly thanks to his likable presence, but his character is merely silly or violent as demanded by the plot, and that is all for us.

In conclusion, “Start-up” did not click well with me because of a number of distracting problems including the under-utilization of its supporting players including Yum Jung-ah, who was much better in “Another Child” (2019). Considering what I observed from the audiences around me during last evening, it will probably be another considerable local hit during this year, but I want to point out that there are funnier South Korean films out there such as “Maggie” (2018) and “Miss & Mrs. Cops” (2019), and I would rather recommend them to you instead.

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