Mr. Wacky (South Korea, 2006)
To expect much from a film titled Mr. Wacky would be an exercise in futility. In fact, the handful of reviews of this film that appear online are less than glowing. Why review a bad film then and waste precious time discussing its faults? Is it a need to spew insults at those involved in the film’s production behind the banner of truthful reviewing, an OCD-like desire to preserve and document every viewing experience like a court stenographer, or is it more likely a curious need to dissect a movie into individual parts and pronounce, with great authority, the how and why a film succeeded or failed? In the case of Kim Dong-Wook’s directorial debut, the last reason motivated me to write this review.
As a fan of Asian cinema, and in Mr. Wacky’s case, the schoolteacher comic melodrama, it did not bother me that the director and his screenwriters, Kim Kyu-won and Yun Jae-seong, choose the familiar dramatic trope of a feckless millionaire bachelor (Park Geon-Hyeong) to be the film’s protagonist who must work as a high school teacher to inherit his grandfather’s fortune. That simple premise could have led to a very witty comedy or, at the very least, an entertaining broad comedy, which is not such a ludicrous expectation since Kim Dong-Wook had previously worked for comic auteur Kim Sang-jin as an assistant director on Attack the Gas Station! (1999) and Kick the Moon (2001), both classic comedies of the new Korean cinema movement. However, while Park Geon-Hyeong is handsome enough to play the role of a playboy, his portrayal of Wu Ju-ho is so flat and one-dimensional that nothing that happens in the film’s 97-minute runtime really matters.
Watching the film, you quickly realize the major plot points come and go merely to mark the time, but nothing is earned. The character of Wu Ju-ho is supposed to be a lecherous arrogant Lothario, but Park’s acting casino is too broad and he tries too hard to be likable that any tension between the audience’s love and hate relationship with the character is non-existent, which makes his transformation towards the end of the film just cheap and perfunctory. Beyond Park’s role, the beautiful Kim Hyo-jin plays Yun So-Ju, the requisite love interest, whose name seems to drive all the male characters to make tacky jokes about how her name sounds like a popular Korean beverage. And though the back and forth verbal, and at times physical, sparring between these two pretty people is the dramatic backbone that drives Wu Ju-ho to change for the better, there is no real conflict or obstacle between the two to really prevent them from being together, except for the fact that movie law states that two people in love in a romantic comedy can’t be together until the very last scene for “dramatic” emphasis.
Other than that, Kim Dong-Wook and his writers introduce and then quickly drop several subplots involving various students and teachers around Ju-ho and So-Ju. These plot lines, which at least during the few minutes that they do appear, feature far richer and more complicated characters that dramatically criticize the Korean education system and shines a light on the wide gulf between Korean youth and the older generation that I wish we could follow their stories. Yet, sadly, Kim directs his camera back to Ju-ho and his dull “wacky” antics.
It”s not that I despise brainless comedies and only gravitate to the art house or “offbeat” indie work like Lee Yoon-ki”s My Dear Enemy (2008) or Bong Joon-ho”s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000). In all honesty, Mr. Wacky isn”t even a bad movie, just a really forgettable one. And that is what frustrates me about this film. If Kim and his writers had not opted for the middle ground and made Ju-ho a more believable character instead of inserting a bunch of unfunny sight gags in-between the unoriginal storyline, the film might have been more bearable to sit through. Of course, this is all just useless whining since Korean cinema has a wide range of intelligent comedies to choose from and so, as a palate cleanser, I think I”ll put one on and hope Mr. Wacky quickly fades from my memory.