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C'est Si Bon
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by Jay Seaver

"French title, Korean film, folk music."
4 stars

There is a little bit of Korean text at the start and end of "C'est Si Bon" left untranslated (at least on the local theater's DCP) that likely says something along the lines of it being based upon a true story or describes how many liberties have been taken. If that's the case, it's okay, and maybe even desirable for those of us who knew pretty much nothing about the Korean folk music scene of the 1960s before seeing this movie: If it plays as a fun little musical romance for us, why ruin that with any extraneous complaints over accuracy?

If you liked Western folk music in Seoul during the late 60s, the "C'est Si Bon" café was the place to be, especially if you were young and into the weekly student championship, where bookish medical student Yoon Hyeoung-joo (Kang Ha-neul) was the champion eleven weeks running until scruffy vagabond Song Chang-sik (Jo Bok-rae) showed up. The two formed an instant dislike, but the club owner saw potential in them working together, although they'd need some sort of buffer. Fortunately, another club regular more intent on becoming a producer, Lee Jang-hee (Jin Goo) has discovered a country kid with a complementary voice, Oh Geun-tae (Jung Woo). He also introduces them to an old school friend of his, aspiring actress Min Ja-young (Han Hyo-joo), and all the members of the "C'est Si Bon Trio" become infatuated more or less instantly. Small wonder, then, that the group would later become famous as "Twin Folio".

Actually, that's a somewhat unfair characterization - writer/director Kim Hyun-seok actually dispenses with the love n-angle material fairly quickly, with the main love story being Geun-tae and Ja-young in fairly short order. It's a fun pairing to watch; Jung Woo plays Geun-tae with an awkward innocence that doesn't prevent him from being able to parry Hyeong-joo's snotty jibes, making for an easy relatability. Han Hyo-joo, meanwhile, is instantly crush-worthy in 1960s fashions and projects an easy charisma as Ja-young, always finding just the right balance between city-girl confidence and a bit of self-doubt. Together, they do a nice job of falling into each other's orbits quickly but taking a while to completely draw together, making for a relaxed, charming story.

Their story is played out against a swinging sixties backdrop, although one with a distinctly South Korean bent, which includes curfews, cops pulling out rulers to see if mini-skirts are too short, and a panic over marijuana to make American anti-drug zealots envious. It's still a colorful world which, even in cramped student apartments and situations where it's clear the young people are being taken advantage of, still holds out a great deal of promise. There are moments when the film teeters on the edge of becoming an actual musical, and the songs on the soundtrack are an unusual group - "Wedding Cake" by Connie Francis plays a big part, although there are moments when Korean guys singing American folk songs comes across more A Mighty Wind than Inside Llewyn Davis.

The rest of the crowd at C'est Si Bon is a memorable group - the characters Kang Ha-neul and Jo Bok-rae play may not be the primary focus of the picture, but they do a neat job of presenting Hyeong-joo's and Chang-sik's opposing approaches to music, how their collaboration and rivalry must work. The idea that they might need a Ringo to their Lennon & McCartney isn't far off. Jin Goo serves as a sort of glue as Jang-hee, a man of this world but not a rival.

It plays out well until it's time to get into why a famous duo emerges from this club as opposed to a trio, and then things get rather uneven: The story twists on a decision that a modern audience may not quite buy, and then jumps forward twenty-odd years for a sequence that is too long for an epilogue but gives us Jang-hee, Ja-young, and Geun-tae played by different actors (Jang Hyun-sung, Kim Hee-ae, and Kim Yun-seok, respectively) which makes it a bit harder to connect. The story that eventually plays out in conversation and flashback, though, puts an interesting and dramatic bow on the story.

And who knows, it may even be true. That's not the most important part, compared to it just being a good story, and "good story told well" is something that "C'est Si Bon" does all right with. It's certainly an interesting backdrop, at the very least.

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originally posted: 02/23/15 08:27:24
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Directed by
  Hyun-seok Kim

Written by
  Hyun-seok Kim

  Woo Jung
  Hyo-joo Han
  Goo Jin
  Ha-neul Kang
  Bok-rae Jo

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