At the end of the Korean War, a newly assigned general to POW camp in Geoje Island, southern coast of the Korean peninsula, orders GI Jackson (Jared Grimes) to teach several Korean War Prisoners to dance, in order to appear on Christmas party stage to impress the news and elevate publicity image of the US. Despite his talent and previous career in Broadway theatre, Jackson barely finds himself in the US Army due to his skin colour.
His ‘dance operation’ at the beginning seems a hopeless ragtag bunch: Byung-sam (Oh Jung-se), a Korean prisoner who believes that media exposure will help him reunite with his missing wife during the war; Xiao Fang (Kim Min-ho), a shy beefy dancer from the Communist Chinese Army, and Pan-rae (Park Hye-soo), opportunity seeker in the ravage of the war refugee town. His expectation over this team is naturally lowered until he finds rebellious Communist Ro Ki-soo. (Do Kyung-soo aka D.O. from EXO). Ki-soo dances funky Kalinka, traditional Russian dance and Jackson learns he is the one to complete this mission. The misfits in POW camp led by GI Jackson team up for one goal, tap dancing.
Ki-soo toggles between his desire and his given role, ‘a hero of North Korea.’ His loyalty to Communism prevents him from joining the team which is aided by their evil state enemy. One day, he receives an order from the high leadership, and what his decision will be?
Director Kang ensembles the horrific face of war through music. Considering this movie is an adaptation of Korean musical “Ro Ki-soo”, it is natural that the music and dance relate all the characters and embrace political tensions existing in the POW camp. Frustrations of Ki-soo and Pan-rae are captured by long, widescreen shots while they respectively run, jump, and dance with ‘Modern Love’ by David Bowie, the passion of being on stage revealed with ‘Sing Sing Sing.’ The dreaming showcase scene at Carnegie Hall in the USA perfects the volition under the Communist soldier’s heart. The choreography of the stage scene and impressed facial expression of Ki-soo amid cheers, make the public lose sight of the fact that they are at war.
On top of his attempt to jumble the history and fantasy with tapping stages, the characters from this movie represent various aspects of the war. Writer and director Kang Hyoung-chul is well known for creating unique characters; for instance, Na-mi and Chun-hwa from “Sunny” and Jeong-nam from “Scandal Makers”. He again verifies this talent in this movie. The features of the protagonists convey different faces of the war, and Pan-rae is stellar. It is worthy of watching a strong-willed woman character who can help herself instead of waiting for a saviour. Considering the time the film is set to the early 20th century, the roles of women have been regulated to domestic works rather than living an independent life. She, however, never yields to the disparity that is given from society. Pan-rae’s cheerful and chin-up attitude blinds her struggles from daily life. Once Pan-rae competitively discloses her squirming in sexism society to Jackson, who is also discriminated by his white comrades, only then people realize the hidden toughness placed on her shoulder.
“F—k ideology” Jackson’s crying at the end of the movie, and this is the simple manifesto of “Swing Kids”. This slogan still stands, when people look around the separated Korean peninsula of 2019, as the last legacy of cold war. Kang’s work stirs the ideologies with cheerful rhythm and communicates that people of that time are the same human beings as us.