Thursday, February 1, 2024

Directors in Focus: Yoon Jong-bin | Beastie Boys (2008) Review

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Notable Cast: Yoon Kye-sang, Ha Jung-woo, Yoon Jin-seo, Kim Min-joo, Ma Dong-seok, Ya Hu-jun, Kwon Yul, Hong Yi-joo

Three years after his very successful student film, director Yoon Jong-bin put forth his sophomore effort, his first studio-backed film, a dark and moody drama, Beastie Boys, a.k.a The Moonlight of Seoul. The direct translation of the Korean title is where the first title comes from, but admittedly, and probably due to associating a said name with the iconic hip-hop trio, I can't help but gravitate towards the alternative title, which I also feel encapsulates the mood and overall vibe of the film so perfectly. The themes of toxic masculinity and the self-destructive and outwardly explosive behavior of certain men are explored here yet again, and with Ha Jung-woo back to play one of the leads, there is much to be liked here, and while I certainly think the film is quite good and well made, I'm not sure it all quite hits as hard as the debut of Mr. Yoon. Still, the journey is absolutely worth embarking on.

The setting of Beastie Boys is set in the world of male club hosts. They provide drinks and a good time to women who are coming in looking for those types of opportunities. These things can lead to a decent amount of money and even steamy exchanges for customers. This aspect of the film is great, showcasing a side of life that many wouldn't see typically, and I think it does a great job showing these men working in their environment. I do wish the film could have gone more in-depth, and maybe we got to see a broader array of characters, but when the nightlife is being explored within the film, it is compelling and well done. As for the plot itself, Seong-woo is doing the male host service to do something more significant, although he keeps what that is from those he is around. He is played by Yoon Kye-sang, who delivers a performance powerhouse. He goes to some dark places, and I give him props for just going for it. Ha Jung-woo plays Jae-hyun, who oversees the men and their money. He has his own problems, which become increasingly apparent as things play out. Ha is a brilliant actor, and his character is just pathetic, always digging himself deeper into a financial hole, which puts not only himself but others that he seems to care about in grave danger as well. I don't wish to spoil much of the story, but it takes some time to really get going; oh, and Ma Dong-seok plays a loan shark here, and he is one mean dude. This is a pre-stardom role, and it's nice to see him outside of his typical good-guy role. He does bad well.

As mentioned, the film looks great. The neon lights help push and showcase that somber feeling the film is going for. You get the hustle and bustle of the city, but the score emphasizes the sadness and spiraling of our two leads. These guys aren't particularly likable, and as the story unfolds, their outbursts become increasingly violent and, quite frankly, disturbing. It veers into a bit of absurdity as the end begins to feel out of place, even for what we've seen up to that point. I may need to watch the film again and look for context clues, but I felt as if the Seung-woo character just really goes a bit too far for what he was built up as, but again, maybe a revisit will help me think otherwise. Something seemed off though, and I didn't quite like the finale. I thought the build-up was great, and the themes that continue to be explored from Yoon's The Unforgiven (2005) are analyzed in a new setting, but ultimately, the message feels pretty similar. People not being able to get out of what they start, in a bad sense. I don't wish to spoil it, but it feels a bit of the same and not quite as successful.

I'm not one to complain about the length of a film typically, but I'm not sure if Yoon feels the need to make his stories over two hours long, but the repetitious nature of this work begins to bog it down ultimately, and I know the point is to show these characters being unable to get out of their predicaments, but it begins to almost be the same scene and scenario playing out time and time again. I know that is the point, but it just feels like more avenues and possibilities could've been explored to make the story a little more exciting or refreshing. The characters are well-written, and the performances are very strong, so you do find yourself being absorbed in the strengths of everything on display, but it certainly suffers from not being tightened up. It is a drama, but it could have used more of an oomph at that runtime. When Ma's character shows up, things immediately become intense due to his menacing presence, but once more, there just needed to be a bit more.

For the second film, Yoon had quite a bit more to work with, and it ended up seeming to be a case of biting off a bit more than he could chew. The ambitions are there, but ultimately, they end up feeling short-lived. The film looks and sounds great, and the performances are all excellent across the board. The characters feel a bit contradictory at times, nearing the climax to the point where I was perplexed, but the messages I mentioned do feel very real and honestly reminded me of some people that I have met along the way in life. They are not able to break their own cycle and are turning more and more inward in their own darkness, it is just said. Beastie Boys is a film that tries to do a lot and succeeds more often than not but certainly does stumble along the way. Still, the film is certainly worth a watch and maybe more rewarding on a future revisit. Recommended to the right crowd.

Written by Josh Parmer

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