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Jungle Story
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by Jay Seaver

"The Story of a Rock & Roll band... is the same around the world."
3 stars

When someone says "Korea" and "rock and roll" in the same sentence, one thing immediately leaps to mind - bootlegs. That may not be fair, but the picture painted of the local music industry in Jungle Story suggests that the bootlegs don't have much competition. The story of would-be rock star Yun Do-hyun is familiar no matter what country you're from, though.

After all, what's not to understand? Do-hyun has just finished his compulsory military service, but doesn't really know what he wants to do next. College doesn't really interest him, and his parents are losing patience. It's not that he's really passionate about music, but it interests him more than most anything else. Soon, he's moved to Seoul, gotten a job in a guitar store (a tiny space in a sprawling market), and become part of a band. They play a club, he gets spotted. An album is recorded, but not released because it's not what the focus groups say they want. He goes back to his home village, but soon is drawn back to Seoul, even if all he and the rest of the band can afford is a place in a slum known as "the jungle"...

In making this film, director Kim Hong-jun chose to blur the line between fact and fiction. Yun Do-hyun has, since the film's release, become a popular singer in Korea, and much of the cast is playing versions of themselves. The performance footage is genuine, with Kim integrating an appearance by the "real" Yun Do-hyun into the story. The rock club that gets shut down in the story was a real rock club that got shut down during shooting. The greenhouse used as rehearsal space (and living quarters) during the last act is apparently where the musicians were living at the time. It's a very peculiar mix of fictional film based on a true story and documentary.

During the post-film discussion, Mr. Kim mentioned that the movie was a critical and box-office disaster when it was released in South Korea. He also mentioned that Yun Do-hyun was one of the nicest and most polite people he's ever worked with, and that this may have hurt the movie. There may be something to that assertion; this movie is almost completely devoid of any kind of tension. The characters are too darn accepting of what happens to them. In everyday life, I admire no attitude more than quiet perserverence. In a movie, however, I expect more of a reaction to being told that the album you recorded would not be released because the label didn't feel it was commercial enough than "well, that's a bummer".

To give Kim credit, he seems to recognize this. There are some plot threads that seem to have been written after-the-fact to give the movie some sort of dramatic arc. The second half about the band's manager taking a risk with an unsponsored concert, for instance. Or the almost-flirtation between Yun and the pretty druggist from whose shop he buys "caffeine tonics" (probably a too-literal translation of the Korean word for "soda", but I like it and intend to start using it in conversation) because he really is too goody-goody to buy beer. Their scenes together are cute, but don't really seem to lead to anything.

Still, even if the semi-documentary approach often means there's little drama, it also means that the scenes about music are completely genuine. Painfully so, in some cases, as the early auditions and rehearsals of the band are realistically awful. However, there is a payoff in the last scene, where we're treated to the band playing with all pretense and commercialism stripped away, and it's the best music in the entire movie. This is rock-and-roll with all the unimportant crap removed, and end unto itself as opposed to a means to fame and fortune, and we're reminded of why we love it.

At a smidge under ninety minutes, Jungle Story doesn't exactly take its time getting to that great last scene, but its unusual method of shooting is its biggest claim to individuality as a rock story.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11681&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/03/05 16:14:37
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USA
  02-Nov-1996

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Hong-Joon Kim

Written by
  Hong-Joon Kim
  Hie Kang
  Jeong-wook Lee

Cast
  Do-hyeon Yun
  Chang-wan Kim



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