Posted by: asianfilmreviews | June 20, 2009

Speed Scandal (2008)

Speed ScandalSpeed Scandal (aka Scandal Makers, Speedy Scandal) – 과속스캔들

Director: Kang Hyeong-Cheol (강형철)

Cast: Cha Tae-Hyun (차태현), Park Bo-Yeong (박보영), Hwang Seok-Hyeon (왕석현)

A 30 something bachelor suddenly finds out he is both a father and a grandfather as a result of his first sexual experience in the 9th grade? What sounds ridiculous actually works extremely well. South Korea’s most successful comedy to date is an incredibly fun affair, anchored by great performances (even by the often one-note Cha Tae-Hyun) and an incredibly cute little boy. But it’s also a very affecting film that, though it may teeter on the edge of thematic indecency, manages to avoid alienating audiences with either tasteless content or over-cooked melodrama. In short, an exceptionally enjoyable film that proves great success need not come in blockbuster form and that quality cinema can be accessible and commercial so long as it focuses on engaging characters and genuine emotions.

Cha Tae-Hyun is Nam Hyeon-Soo, a wannabe TV idol and sort-of-popular radio personality with the ultimate bachelor lifestyle – he’s wealthy, he has gorgeous women in tow, and he’s scandal-free. While on his show, he counsels a disaffected young woman named Hwang Jeong-Nam (Park Bo-Yeong) to visit the father she’s never known and introduce him to the grandson he doesn’t even know exists (Hwang Seok-Hyeon). She agrees, and Hyeon-Soo is proud of himself for this seemingly good bit of advice… until she shows up at his apartment door with her son, Hwang Ki-Dong, ready to move in. Naturally, Hyeon-Soo wants to avoid any scandals of this magnitude. If word got out that his very early sexual experience (hence the title gwasok) produced a child who also had a baby at a young age, he could potentially be ruined.

It is how Hyeon-Soo deals with this new living arrangement that makes the film what it is. After a DNA test, performed by his veterinarian friend, proves the direct relationship, he realizes that he can’t just disregard his own daughter and grandson, but his desire to maintain a somewhat normal bachelor lifestyle while indulging his daughter’s desire to be a singer and his grandson’s need for education and a healthy childhood simply cannot coexist. In one particular subplot, he places Ki-Dong in a kindergarten class under the pretense that he is his uncle as opposed to his grandfather. The charade builds as Hyeon-Soo immediately falls in love with Ki-Dong’s stunning kindergarten teacher and subsequently uses Ki-Dong to extract information about her availability and likes/dislikes. Take a look:

It’s a hilarious sequence, made more endearing by Hwang Seok-Hyeon as Ki-Dong who falls in love with one of his classmates. It’s tough for child actors to get through a film without coming across as either forced, fake, or just flat out annoying (look at Willow Smith in I Am Legend for a great example; she’s in the film for all of five minutes, yet she makes worse an already awful film!!), but the filmmakers wisely rely on Seok-Hyeon’s charming physical traits, particularly his sudden shifts in facial expressions and his close relationship with the two leads, as opposed to feeding him a wealth of dialogue. Faring equally well is Park Bo-Yeong as Jeong-Nam. Despite this being her first acting job, and despite it being a large role, she handles it beautifully. Not only is she a fantastic singer, but she comes across as a very determined young lady who is simply seeking the love and support of her father, and her method of reconciling her own dreams with the needs of her newly expanded family feels very natural. Here she is singing in the studio while her secretive father watches in quiet amazement:

Plot-wise, the filmmakers never lose sight of the purpose of Hyeon-Soo’s relationships with his progeny – this is about his growth as a character. Cha Tae-Hyun actually gives a deeper and more mature performance than he usually does as his character goes from a carefree playboy to a responsible and loving father/grandfather. He plays it well, and his transition manages to be both affective yet in line with the film’s overall charming demeanor. For example, when Hyeon-Soo comes into contact with the father of his grandchild, his instinctual violent reaction is comical as well as a great example of Korean male culture.

But beyond simply focusing on the characters, Speed Scandal does what the best films do – it is infused with culture (as in the above example). Not unlike Bong Joon-Ho’s (봉준호) monster success The Host (괴물), which touted fantastic effects and a far-reaching scope in addition to the idea of three generations banding together in a time of crisis, Speed Scandal is indeed about the family. The film doesn’t pander to what usually defines a traditional family, and instead stresses generational ties in spite of the storied unconventional family and its disfunctionality. Complaints about the whereabouts of Jeong-Nam’s mother (Hyeon-Soo’s childhood lover) or the sudden appearance of Jeong-Nam’s lover are moot when you realize that the events presented to us in the film are for the development of Hyeon-Soo and his new family. This is not about the emasculation of Korean men, but the maturation and adaptation necessary to grow as a human being.

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