Kick the Moon Review
It's 1982; the end of the year, and the students of Gangsan High are together for celebrations. Young-joon, a bright young kid but an outcast to his fellow classmates, has chosen to sing on stage, only to be quickly booed off when Gi-dong, the most popular kid at school, gets up and takes over. Not long into his performance he gets word of a rival gang making its way toward the celebrations, and so he calls upon his comrades to join him as they set into motion an event that will be talked about for years to come.
Nineteen years later and we learn that Choi Gi-dong (Cha Seung-won) has become a teacher in his hometown of Gyeongju. While he has a newfound respect for the education system, he still finds himself retaining a little of his violent side, while fondly reminiscing to his hopeless students about past glory days. On the other end of the spectrum we see that Young-joon (Lee Sung-jae), once shunned by all, has become an important figure within the Nami gang and has returned home to claim Gyeongju as his territory. By chance the former classmates meet over drinks and seem amazed by how drastically each other’s lives have changed. But when Jin-seob (Lee Jong-su) - a student of Gi-dong’s - is arrested, the pair find themselves at the mercy of the lad’s sister, Min Ju-ran (Kim Hye-su). Gi-dong instantly falls head over heels for the restaurant owner, but he’s about to face some serious problems when the delinquent boy runs off to Young-joon and begs to be let into his gang. Young-joon lays down an ultimatum for the boy, which soon sees Gi-dong go against his better judgement as he tries not to fall back into old habits.
Director Kim Sang-jin arrived on the scene at the right time with his box-office sensation Attack the Gas Station. It followed hotly off the heels of other home-grown successes in 1999 such as Shiri and Nowhere to Hide as a new wave in filmmaking was opening up, making the most of recent changes in censorship laws and bringing to the table young bloods well versed in overseas techniques. ATGS, released toward the end of the year, subsequently wound up a strong piece of work, fuelled by punk sensibilities; not only was it entertaining and exuberantly paced, it also declared some heavy social critique, entering cinemas toward the end of a decacde that had been tormented by fierce economic turmoil. It was part of a defining boom which saw the South Korean film industry blast off in a big way, getting it right under the nose of international distributors in the process.
Following on two years later, Kick the Moon opens with much the same verve that ATGS employed throughout its duration; anarchy is rife, as this time rival school gangs set into motion a brawl which would soon become the stuff of legend. But Kim’s follow-up feature isn’t quite as thick with its political or social statements, evidenced in that once the opening scene is dispensed with it settles into a light character-driven piece. About the closet it ever gets to examining social concerns is in its poking fun at gangsters and to a lesser extent peer pressure within the education system, the latter of which would feature more prominently in Yun Je-gyun’s My Boss, My Hero in the same year, but also extended on from ATGS’s own critique. For all intents, however, Kick the Moon merely pits two men together, who happen to be on opposite side of the tracks, thus allowing their different lifestyles and attitudes to play off each other with comic relish.
There’s nothing particularly unique, say, in the way that gangsters are portrayed or looked upon here, but that doesn’t really matter, as the director winds up focusing on the importance of his characters; their well-roundedness lending a lot more charm to several very funny scuffles, which certainly sees Kim expand upon his previous effort’s more fleeting, though still noted characterization. What’s particularly gratifying is the pseudo role-reversal of our two lead fellows, which brings about some neat plot developments and in turn maintains a considerably fresh feeling throughout much of first and second acts with its crazed antagonism. And indeed, while the film features some solid tertiary support (Lee Won-jong especially delightful as a rival permed gangster), its Lee Sung-Jae, Cha Seung-won and Kim Hye-su who rightfully own the film from start to finish. Both male leads have proven to be firm favourites of the director; Lee also co-starred in ATGS shortly after breaking out with the delightful Art Museum By the Zoo, while Cha went on to star in the director’s next two features. It’s easy to see their appeal and both make for a perfect clashing of ideals, while actress Kim holds her own in showing off her wonderful comic timing and exaggerated expressions.
But for all its plus points, the film does start to meander as it approaches the final act. While the obviously established friendship between its lead duo takes precedence, other areas are somewhat neglected; the love triangle for instance, which had served as a central plot device for much of the run time is danced around and eventually brushed to one side, leaving behind a certain amount of will they/won’t they ambiguity. On the one hand its understandable as the director has quite skilfully managed to get both men on our side, but on the other he simply resorts to padding out the last twenty minutes with what is essentially a huge fight sequence. At this juncture a little interest is lost as the dynamic characterisation which dominated much of the early and middle portions vanishes in an instant, leaving us with a considerably drawn out and largely dull set-piece which is presumably designed to bring things to a suitable climax and give the audience what the director thinks they want.
The DiscQuite an interesting release this one. If there’s anyone reading who, like myself, started collecting Korean films on DVD years ago, then you may be wondering if its worth the upgrade from the Cinema Service disc. Well, you’re still going to have to make up your own mind. Third Window presents the film in progressive PAL format and anamorphically at 2.35:1, which gives it the one-up over the Korean release, which actually had cropped a substantial amount of information from the sides and labelled itself as anamorphic 1.85:1. However, Third Window’s release does seem to be a little stretched vertically to my eye. It’s also a little heavy on the saturation; colours are a tad warmer than they should be, with some brighter colours such as red and orange coming awfully close to bleeding. Softness is also a big issue, along with a huge dollop of edge enhancement, while there’s also a spot of aliasing.
The following comparison has Third Window Films R2 release on top:
The Korean DD2.0 track appears to be down-mixed from 5.1; rear channels pick up some decent ambient effects and support most of Son Mu-hyeon’s score. The fight sequences benefit the most, with some decent bass, and dialogue is well handled across the front speakers.
The English subtitles, while offering a fine translation, are disappointing in that they’re hard-matted and go toward detracting from the image quality further on account of a slightly blurred appearance.
At just over 11 minutes, the ‘Making Of’ featurette is typical of most South Korean behind-the-scenes offerings - a series of randomly inserted footage that show little more than scenes being acted out. There are no real laughs to be had, no NG shots or interviews with the cast, making this pretty much inessential. The disc also includes an original theatrical trailer for the film and other Third Window catalogue titles.