Published on August 31st, 2006 | by Greg0
Flying Boys: KFEST2
High school boys taking ballet in Korea? Not a bad premise for a movie. Granted, I think Irish stepdancing would have taken it that extra step towards humor. But in a nuanced movie of teenage angst, ballet wonderfully mirrors the distinguished seriousness of this Korean comedy.
There is a system to the dance movie genre. Shall We Dance, Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, heck, even Breakin’, they all set the bar for how a learning-to-dance movie should proceed. First, there needs to be an underdog almost improbably thrust into some sort of new dance situation. In this case, it is Min-jae, a high school senior, and his friends who are blackmailed into taking a ballet class by a teacher who caught them drinking. Second, there needs to be an awkward and improbable love interest who just happens to be a partner of some sort. This is where a very spunky Soo-jin jumps in, as a teenager trying to leave home so she can become a veterinarian.
OK. Good so far.
However, the movie breaks down on one critical aspect… There’s not much dancing in the movie. There’s a scene of just the teacher, there’s a few learning scenes, there’s a few class scenes, but there’s no real love of the dance. In contrast to the smooth development of the characters, the incremental ballet learning is almost non-existent. Which is why, at the end of the movie, when our lead is able to finally do some cool dance move with a French name, we don’t cheer. We did not know he couldn’t do it.
Instead, the movie focuses more on the friendships developed in the class, and on the lives of the teenagers who are trying to grow up in a world already trying to hold them back. The bittersweet relationships the teenagers have with the adults in their life is sometimes almost too sad. The writers rightly gave Min-jae’s father both a comical, sympathetic edge as well as a blind, hurtful one. Other grown-ups are not so lucky, and it makes me wonder whether this is, unfortunately, an accurate portrayal of many Korean relations or an overdramatic look.
Drama and ballet aside, there is a good dose of comedy to lighten up the movie for general audiences. And, of course, there are many wonderfully awkward moments when they are learning to dance, fulfilling one of the other requirements of the dance movie genre. Don’t forget to check out the HIFF website for information on the upcoming Hawaii International Film Festival, starting October 19th!