Directed by Byung-Gil Jung
South Korea, 2009
Anyone with an admiration for Asian action films knows that the genre’s acrobatic stunt work is decidedly more realistic than the cushy, impressionistic green-screen stunts of Hollywood fare (workplace safety standards evidently aren’t the same overseas). And no one knows this better than Jung Byung-Gil, a perpetual dreamer and movie junkie who is determined to become the next Stephen Chow. A delightfully sweet and self-deprecating look at one man’s transition from film geek to stunt man, Action Boys follows Jung and several of his classmates as they audition for and attend the Seoul Action School. The grueling training program takes its toll (only seven of the 34 students who begin the program graduate) but the survivors earn spots in such cult Korean action pics as City of Violence and The Host. Action Boys is an endearing, tongue-in-cheek look at where your love for the movies can take you.
Director Byung-Gil Jung’s ‘Action Boys’ is practically indefinable. Going in, I was expecting a ‘making of a movie’ style documentary in the vein of Lost in LaMancha or Shot in Bombay. In actuality, Action Boys is a strange, somewhat unfocused, collage of images, tones and styles that still has me trying to figure out whether or not it actually worked. One of the more unusual choices is the extremely formal narration throughout the film, spouting out these clichéd and sometimes obvious observations about the characters and sometimes even pondering what they may be thinking in a certain moment. It was reminiscent of ‘Fishing With John’s’ take on the nature show narrator and their bland observations. At times it’s pretty hilarious, I’m just not sure if it’s always intended to be. (It’s worth noting that the narrator actually ends up being relevant to the story. I won’t spoil it for you.)
Some of the characters are endearing, but the film follows so many people that I felt like we really never got to know any single one of them that well. And for anyone checking this film out in hopes to see some killer Korean action, you will likely be sorely disappointed. I’d say 90% of the film is spent off set, focusing more on the quirks of the students of the Seoul Action School. In fact, we don’t even really spend that much time in the actual school. Although some of the students audition tapes are pretty hilarious. It’s interesting seeing which of these guys actually end up working their way through the school and securing jobs as stunt men in Korean action films. The shitty part is, most of the ones who do require a pause button to actually catch their ‘performance’ with the naked human eye. — Jay