Bravo My Life Review

Set in the world of corporate affairs, with its underhand business dealings and prejudice against older workers, Bravo My Life certainly seems to have some comment to make about social and corporate attitudes in modern Korean society, but primarily it is a comedy, and a quite likeable one. Finding that the new cut-throat world of modern business is no place for an older management style, four aging Korean salarymen struggle to overcome attitudes of what is considered acceptable behaviour for men of their age and status and set about achieving their long-held ambition of being rock stars. Not exactly realistic, the film’s message is evidently a simple one of following your dream, but along the way it manages to create more than a few amusing situations and make a point about the modern corporate lifestyle.

It’s only when he is coming to the end of his career that Mr Cho (Baek Yoon-sik) realises he hasn’t really achieved anything in his life. Although he is well respected as a senior manager, it was never his intention to spend 30 years of his life working for the same company. With only one month to go before his retirement, he starts thinking about what he is to do with his life. How does one cope at this stage of life, moving out of a certain kind of lifestyle and mindset where there are clear rules, targets and expectations into a far less certain future? As the realisation also comes to Mr Cho that he is dispensable, that there are younger, hungrier employees waiting in the wings to take his place, his only regret is that he never followed his dream to be a drummer in a rock band. His junior staff in the General Affairs Department start making plans for his retirement party, and try to convince Chief Cho to form a band with some of his colleagues, but some less than legal international business affairs threaten to see Cho’s retirement end in ignominy rather than in the limelight.

It’s not recommended that you take Bravo My Life’s view of the workplace too seriously, or see it representative of the Korean business model, since the message it puts across is a very confusing one indeed. On the one hand, it is critical of the whole world of corporate affairs, the new work ethic of dog-eat-dog and doing whatever it takes to succeed, while on the other hand – noting that you spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with your spouse and children – it seems to support and approve of a view of the office set-up as a surrogate for the conventional family and that through acceptance of your place in the hierarchy of the office, you can live your dream through your honest dedication to your job and respect towards your work colleagues. It probably adds to the confusion somewhat that the film is based on a script by Japanese writer/director Jun Ichikawa (Tony Takitani), and indeed, the attitudes, hierarchical structure and deference towards superiors, and even the office breaks for exercise and relaxation routines, all have the feel of the Japanese office environment. There could be a warning here that this is the direction Korean business is going, with its lack of concern for the individual who is approaching retirement and no longer of any value to society, but evidently this isn’t the main purpose of the film...

It’s the comic and escapist angle that is the main thrust of Bravo My Life, but quite how funny you will find it will depend on how supportive you are of the idea that you’re only as young as you feel and on your tolerance for watching normally stuffy suit-wearing salarymen approaching retirement age strutting their stuff at discos, being the object of adoration for beautiful young girls and living out their fantasy of being in a rock band. It’s the kind of thing that is either going to make you cheer in support or cringe with embarrassment. Or possibly a bit of both – for no matter how improbable, sentimental and corny it might get in places (the unlikely ending in particular might push your goodwill beyond the limit), there is something winning in the performances (notably from Welcome To Dongmakgol’s Im Ha-ryong on bass guitar and Park Jun-gyu as the flamboyant aging axe-man), as well as the underlying sentiment and the manner in which the director plays the comedy off against the actions of the villainous young upstart that assures the viewer that the film’s heart is in the right place, and prevents you from taking it all too seriously.

Bravo My Life is released in the Korea by DY Entertainment. The DVD is in NTSC format and is encoded for Region 3.

On a superficial level, the image here looks great. There are no marks on the print, and the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer appears relatively stable with a bold colour scheme. The image however is interlaced which could cause motions problems on a progressive display. Colours are slightly over-saturated and not well defined. Reds and oranges in particular seem glaring, showing chroma problems, while skin tones are rather smeary. Edge-enhancement may be visible, macro-compression artefacts, and in certain scenes, horizontal video scan-lines can be seen. On a regular CRT display few of these issues will cause any problem and the image will appear more than satisfactory.

The DVD has a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes of the original Korean soundtrack. The 5.1 mix is excellent – not necessarily that strong on its use of surrounds or low-frequency range, but demonstrating a strong, clear and rounded tone that lets the showpiece musical numbers ring out. Dialogue on the central channel isn’t always the clearest, particularly in some earlier scenes, but this is less of a problem later on, and could just be a consequence of the original mixing or recording.

Optional English subtitles are provided in a clear white font, and manage well throughout with few grammatical errors of any significance. Only the word “bass” is consistently misspelt as “base”. (They could have done with getting someone to proof the English title on the actual cover though).

There are no English subtitles available on the extra features, but the features are such that they don’t really require them. Instruments, Singing Practice (3:22) shows the band members rehearsing in a recording studio, Baek Yoon-sik: Drums (1.18), shows the filming of Chief Cho’s ‘Keep On Running’ opening dream sequence, Im Ha-ryong: Bass Guitar (0:59) shows extended footage of his performance sequence in the film, and Park Jun-gyu: Electric Guitar/Singing (1:23) is more footage of the lead guitarist rocking out. Also included are the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:13) and the inevitable Music Video (3:01) for the title song ‘Bravo My Life’.

Bravo My Life provides an interesting insight into attitudes in the Korean workplace and the early retirement of capable staff to make way for a newer, more ruthless breed of ambitious businessman, but it never really resolves any of the issues it raises, using them rather to have a bit of escapist, feel-good fun. As far as that goes, the film is a little cheesy and improbable, but it’s entertaining and likeable, and makes light of its two-hour running time.

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