South Korean film “Jazzy Misfits” bounces here and there in one colorful neighborhood area of Seoul along with its two very different main characters. Although we can clearly see its eventual destination from the very beginning, the movie diligently amuses and entertains us mainly thanks to the strong acting from its two lead performers, and it surely earns its rather sentimental finale in the end.
At the beginning, we are introduced to a middle-aged woman who turns out to be the mother of a struggling young singer. When she was a young teenager girl, Soon-deok (Cheetah) decided to leave her mother after frequently clashing with her mother due to her stubborn aspiration to be a singer someday, so she is not so pleased when her mother, played by Jo Min-soo, comes to her residence located somewhere in the Itaewon-dong of Seoul, but then Soon-deok’s mother notifies her that Soon-deok’s younger sister, who has been living with Soon-deok’s mother, is suddenly disappeared without any word on where she goes.
At first, Soon-deok is not particularly upset about her younger sister’s disappearance, but then, after learning that her younger sister stole some money from their mother before her disappearance, she belatedly discovers that her younger sister also took away some cash from her, and that certainly makes her as determined to find her younger sister as her mother. She and her mother instantly go to a local police station for reporting her younger sister’s missing, but then they decide that they should track down her younger sister for themselves, and that is the beginning of their bumpy journey.
When they go to the local police station, Soon-deok and her mother happen to encounter the chief of the local police station, who turns out to have a relationship with Soon-deok’s mother a long time ago. As gradually revealed along the story, Soon-deok’s mother was one of those poor women who had to earn their living in the bars and nightclubs of Itaewon-dong, and it goes without saying that Soon-deok had a pretty difficult time during her childhood years as her mother was usually busy with her nighttime jobs or numerous men in her life.
Not so surprisingly, it is subsequently revealed that Soon-deok’s younger sister did not tell much about her family to teachers and schoolmates in her middle school. While she has been a fairly good model student, she lied about her family, and that certainly embarrasses Soon-deok and her mother a lot while they talk with the classroom teacher of Soon-deok’s younger sister, who has no idea about who Soon-deok actually is.
At least, Soon-deok and her mother find a few clues after talking with two of her younger sister’s schoolmates and then visiting a local tattoo shop where her younger sister worked. Convinced that her younger daughter is hiding somewhere along with some lad who seems to her younger daughter’s boyfriend, Soon-deok’s mother is ready to go all the way, and Soon-deok happens to know someone who may be able to assist their ongoing search.
That person in question is a young black Korean dude named Jeong-bok (Terris Brown), and he is just one of many interesting and colorful misfit characters popping here and there in Soon-deok and her mother’s journey around Itaewon-dong, which, for many years, has been a home for various minority social members. There is a sweet and poignant moment when Soon-deok’s mother comes to bond with a young single mother employee at the local tattoo shop who reminds her a lot of her younger self in the past, and we are also served with an amusing chase scene where Soon-deok and her mother suddenly get an unexpected help from a young foreign guy who seems to be a parkour expert.
And there is also a subplot involved with Soon-deok’s struggling music career. At one point, Soon-deok, who has been known as “Blue” in her profession, is requested to perform along with her band in front of some rich jerk and his girlfriend, and it goes without saying that his very rude behavior during her performance angers her mother within a few minutes. When Soon-deok later drops by a small recording studio, she demonstrates to her mother that she is indeed a good singer who may succeed more, and her mother responds to that with sincere enthusiasm and support.
What is eventually revealed during its third act feels anti-climactic, but the screenplay by Kang Hyeong-joo still does not lose its focus on the complicated relationship between Soon-deok and her mother, and the movie is supported well by Jo Min-soo and Cheetah, who wonderfully complement each other throughout the film. Although her character is often abrasive and volatile to say the least, Jo’s brash and spirited performance, which is quite different from her harrowing turn in “Pieta” (2012), is always brimming with life and personality, and Cheetah, who has been mainly known for her rap music career, is equally good as her co-performer’s calmer counterpart. In case of the supporting cast members in the film, Terris Brown, who is actually an American, steals the show with his likable performance, and Jung Man-sik, a reliable South Korean veteran actor whom I have always remembered for his avuncular supporting turn in “Breathless” (2008), is also fine in his small but crucial role.
“Jazzy Misfits” is the second feature film by director Nam Yeon-woo, who previously drew the attention of South Korean audiences and critics with his interesting debut feature film “Lost to Shame” (2016). While it is less intense than “Lost to Shame” in comparison, the movie is buoyed a lot by its palpable mood and spirit on the screen instead, and it confirms to us that Nam is indeed a good filmmaker with considerable potentials. It is a shame that the movie is released in local movie theaters in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but I sincerely hope this will be another stepping stone for Nam’s promising filmmaker career.