I watched this because of the Pink Girls. No, not like that. They're seven cute girls in pink wigs and pink school uniforms who look as if they've just landed from Planet Kitsch and are all over the internet search results for this movie. Disappointingly they only show up for the opening and closing credits to do a song and dance number, but even so this is clearly a must-see for fans of deranged Asian cinema. I went in expecting something ridiculous and entertaining and I wasn't disappointed.
The movie's a comedy, but in an unusual way. It feels like a sketch show. You know how feature-length comedies generally work like sitcoms, in which the laughs come from how the characters respond to their situations? That's not an insult, by the way. However this film's laughs are more reminiscent of the thirty-second sketch show formula of "what weird shit can we throw out next?" It has a cast, yes, but some of its funniest characters are one-scene wonders who take over the movie for four minutes, then are never seen again. The plot's practically a bunch of episodes, maybe lasting on average ten minutes each, linked to a greater or lesser extent by ongoing characters, and the tone is so light and surreal that they can end a scene with a "wah wah waaaah" sound effect and get away with it.
This works really well, by the way.
I like the film's surrealism and freshness. I admire the way it manages not to feel random and incoherent, despite the fact that it is. Most importantly though, I laughed at its jokes. There's some really funny stuff here, such as the masochist teacher and the big burly moneylender who likes dressing up as a schoolgirl. The film's surrealism also gives it a weirder and goofier spread of gags, not to mention letting it get away with goofy stuff like Cyclops, a boy with one huge eye in the middle of his face. This is a fun, light film that's strange in a good way and made me laugh. I'd recommend it.
Oh, and did I mention the musical numbers? As with The Happiness of the Katakuris
, the genre of the movie musical seems to be striking certain Asian directors as ludicrous and unnatural (which it is) and they're thus using it as another way of being flamboyantly strange (which is great).
However if you look at this film's source material and what it's trying to do, what you'll find is an adaptation that's at its weakest when it's trying to be faithful.
The film's based on a Korean webcomic called Dasepo Girls, which Je-yong Lee also turned into a TV series at the same time as making this movie. Look that up and you'll see words like "dark" and "controversial" which you won't see anyone using in connection with this movie. The webcomic is set in a school called Useless High School, where the students are sex fiends, the teachers are perverts and pretty much anything might happen. Fans were sceptical when it was announced that it was being adapted into a movie, partly because of the extreme sexual content and partly because the strip has no ongoing plot at all and always just does anything it feels like. The latter explains a lot about the film I've just seen and I actually think it was handled quite well. The former though...
You see, this movie isn't offensive. It's about as edgy and confrontational as a puppy in a toilet roll advert. Theoretically it's following the original in its sexual content, with characters like a schoolgirl prostitute, a transvestite gangster and a girl with a penis, but none of them come across as anything but charming and eccentric. You'd think it was written by Richard Curtis, by which I don't mean anything that ever had Ben Elton near it but instead Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone. (I've seen it said that there's a suicide at the beginning as someone jumps through a window, but at the time it never occurred to me that the girl in question wasn't just leaving the room in a hurry.) The prostitute never has sex... and indeed nor does anyone else. The underground cult who kidnap virgins for their erotic energy are harmless and goofy. Gangsters are as threatening as teddy bears. The most important characters are all heterosexual. This makes for a pleasant, enjoyable film that you could practically take your children to see, but it's a far cry from the webcomic.
This hurts the finale. The headmaster is revealed to be a dragon larvae and the way to defeat her would appear to involve mass masturbation. If you're aware of the existence of the webcomic, this makes sense. It's the perfect way to cap off something so gleefully tasteless. However the film's so inoffensive that it can't even bring itself to show nudity and so this finale just looks pointless and puzzling. You don't know why they're doing it. It doesn't seem to have any plot or thematic relevance, since you've probably forgotten that the film early on had a bunch of sex gags. It's not a big deal, but all the climactic stuff with the headmaster doesn't work and it only doesn't hurt the film more because it never seems even slightly consequential.
That's an odd wrinkle, but it also hardly matters. The film is completely different from the webcomic and the identity it's created for itself is fresh and interesting enough to make these comparisons of only academic interest. Kim Ok-bin (whom I last saw in Thirst
) grounds the film as Poor Girl, managing to seem real while also fitting into the candy-coloured wackiness. I adore what they did with her stuffed toy. Lee Won-jong is a scream as Big Razor Sis and I could have watched him all day. Double-Eyes has a disconcertingly alien-looking face, but she's also beautiful. Oh, and there's also some mild social commentary on the Korean perspective, with exaggerated patriotism, sexual bigotry and anti-Americanism all getting gently flagged up. A woman sits on a book by Yeats, then says that she didn't mean to insult Ireland and couldn't she have an American book instead?
This film didn't do well at the box office, although it did get released opposite the best-performing Korean film of all time, The Host. It's whimsical rather than aggressive. Its light-hearted silliness obviously isn't for everyone, but I bet in ten years time it's going to be one of the biggest cult films out there. It's a lot of fun.