firefightersHyeon-jun ShinJun-ho JeongJin-Young Jang
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Joo Yeob Lee
Keywords: firefighters
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea
Actor: Hyeon-jun Shin, Jun-ho Jeong, Jin-Young Jang
Format: 102 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 23 March 2012
It's okay, but it's a bit lazy and TV-level. It's got personality, though.
It's a firefighter movie, like Backdraft or indeed the other 2000 Korean firefighter movie, Libera Me. I think I'm getting wary of firefighter movies. Their problem is that a big fire should be exciting and so the movie is likely to begin with a conflagration to throw their cast in media res and get the audience's pulses racing. This usually fails. It's like battle scenes. You can't see who's who and the filmmakers have to work much harder to raise their characters above the level of Third Helmet On The Left. Libera Me's first twenty minutes were boring. Siren does better, although (or perhaps because?) it's lower-budget, but it's still messy enough that this cripples the first half of the film.
It's not fair to call it TV-level, really. I used to like London's Burning. What I mean is that this is a movie that feels more as if you've walked in halfway through a TV series. It doesn't introduce its cast properly, or indeed at all. It just throws us at a bunch of identical-looking firefighters running at high speed around a burning building, then seems to think that's an introduction and leaves us to flounder. I didn't know who was who. I had no way of telling the difference between one man and his neighbour.
This wouldn't have been so bad if the film wasn't doing banter and character business that's clearly going to work far better if you know who everyone is.
However I eventually pieced it together. The main character is Hyeon-jun Shin, who has a face like a hatchet and no sense of humour whatsoever. He'll go to any lengths to save people, which gets him into trouble with his saner colleagues and in one case indirectly causes an idiot to injure himself. He has an adorable girlfriend, Jin-Young Jang, who's cute, bubbly, good-hearted and possibly the loveliest person in the world, which makes you wonder how they came to be together and how many milliseconds it's going to take for his sour-faced disposition to drive her away. Jang loves him, though. You could say that, if you take the average between them, they're normal.
There are other characters, but even now I can't say I'm confident about describing them. There are mountaineers. (Shin's hobby is mountaineering.) There's a guy who hates Shin for reasons I'd have to rewatch the film to be sure about, plus that aforementioned idiot. Oh, and an arsonist. That's mandatory in this genre, though.
I shouldn't overdo this particular point. The movie's not incomprehensible, or even close to it. It's just clumsy. We're merely talking about sloppiness that would have looked almost normal on TV. However you expect better in something made for cinemas... and there are other such criticisms. There's a distractingly cheap model shot of a burning building, which must have been about six inches high given the size of the flames. What happens to the arsonist is so throwaway that you might start looking for his real fate in the deleted scenes. I also wanted to kill the incidental music, which will occasionally dump a singing twat over the top of a scene that should have been shocking and reduce it to daytime soap opera. That's the film's most painful sin(g). There's some fairly nasty stuff in here, but the audience might as well be watching the usual Hollywood bollocks if they're being smothered by that kind of music.
However there's also plenty of good stuff here if you can live with filmmakers who give the impression of having just graduated from Neighbours and Home and Away.
Firstly, the film has personality. It's Korean, which means that apparently inevitable TV cliches are liable to get crushed by nastier plot developments. There's gleeful sadism from the filmmakers, so for instance the first thing they do is burn a slightly annoying family of two doting parents and one overacting brat. If a fireman enters a burning room and sees: (a) an unconscious man who needs rescuing, and (b) an open safe with lots of money inside, then it's not immediately obvious what'll happen next. The accidental groin smack made me laugh. I'm prepared to forgive a lot for that... this isn't the expected one-dimensional heroism. Instead this is a film with teeth.
I also like the cast. Hyeon-jun Shin is the opposite of an audience-pleasing pretty boy and I liked him a lot. As for the impossibly cute Jin-Young Jang, she's a former Miss Korea beauty contestant who then changed career and became an award-winning actress. She became only the second winner of two Blue Dragon Film Awards for Best Actress, for instance. She went head-on for some really challenging roles, but then died of stomach cancer in 2009 at the age of 35.
Overall, this is a strong story with points of interest, but it also has some big, annoying missteps in the script and production. I enjoyed it, but it's a bumpy ride. Nevertheless its personality adds spice and you've got to love Jin-Young Jang. It's made me more reluctant to watch firefighter movies, though.