My friend Marcin suggested “Delta Boys” as a hilarious film, and although comedies are among my least favorite genres, I decided to give it a go. The result was a rather pleasant surprise, as Ko Bong-soo seems to have a rather unique sense of humor, which he has incorporated in the movie, while the social comments and the drama are also important parts of the narrative. Let us take things from the beginning, though.
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The story revolves around four individuals, which could be easily described as losers. Il-rok is a mechanic who spends his days eating ramen, essentially doing nothing except working. When his old friend, Ye-geon, returns from the USA, though, he “forces” him to remember their dreams about music, by convincing him to enter a quartet singing competition. Two more members eventually join them. Dae-yong, a fish-seller who always wears a costume outside of work and his friend, Joon-se, who runs a food stall with his wife, Ji-hye.
The four of them struggle to form a proper quartet, although they spend most of their time eating and drinking, instead of rehearsing. Eventually, their personal issues catch up with them. Il-rok suffers from a severe case of depression, frequently hurting himself. Ye-geon, who is extremely annoying with his constant use of English the rest do not understand, has no future, whatsoever, neither personally nor professionally. Dae-yong has failed to pursue a music career a number of times, and he actually hates his job. Joon-se has a rather abusive relationship with his wife, with the two of them fighting constantly, with their altercations usually turning physical. Despite their issues, though, the four of them continue their efforts, until reality hits them even harder.
Ko Bong-soo directs a film that is quite funny, particularly through the interactions of the four protagonists, but also through the extreme relationship Joon-se shares with his wife. His humor works both as episodic and through dialogues, in a subtle, quirky way that makes it very interesting and quite unique. Furthermore, the fact that the four do not seem to do anything regarding their purpose is also quite funny, with the many scenes of eating, drinking and conversing being quite reminiscent of Hong Sang-soo’s style, although in a much more funny way.
The drama eventually kicks in quite hard, particularly through Il-rok psychological issues and the relationship Dae-yong and Joon-se share, although the drama resulting from their actual situation never actually ceases, despite the fact that in the beginning, it is pushed to the background. This aspect, and particularly the events that occur near the end, eloquently present Ko Bong-soo’s Cavafean comment, that “the trip is much important than the destination”, with the finale of the movie highlighting this concept in the most delightful way. Let me just say that the rhythmic intonation of the word Jericho will stay with you for quite a while after the film has ended.
The acting in the movie is on a very high level. Baek Seung-hwan-I as Il-rok is impressive as a man who tries to hide his psychological struggle under the facade of the silent, tough guy, with the moments he despairs being the highlights of the dramatic aspect of the film. Shin Min-jae as Dae-yong provides much laughter through his appearance and overall composure and Lee Woong-bin as Ye-geon through his annoying attitude; however, I felt that the main source of comedy is Yoon Ji-hye as Ji-hye, with her interactions with both her husband, but also the rest of the quartet members being extremely funny.
Apart from the direction, Ko Bong-soo was also in charge of the cinematography and editing, both of which are in a more than adequate level. Regarding the former, particularly, his framing is quite good, while the visuals in general communicate the dead end the protagonists’ lives have stumbled upon, through shooting mostly in cramped, almost claustrophobic settings, again with the exception of the finale. Regarding the editing, Ko has implemented a relatively slow pace, which suits the art-house aesthetics of the film, while the succession of the various “arcs” keeps the film interesting. In that regard, however, I felt that the movie would benefit from some trimming, since at 2 hours, becomes a bit tiring occasionally.
“Delta Boys” is a very interesting film, that works as both a comedy and a drama, and a great sample of Korean indie filmmaking.