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Show Must Go On, The
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by Jay Seaver

"As you might expect, "knife-weilding hood" isn't a great career choice."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Being a gangster sounds cool until you try to make a career out of it. Maybe the money's okay, but the hours stink, it's awkward when your daughter's teacher asks you what you do for a living, and the lack of insurance really causes trouble when getting beaten or stabbed is an occupational hazard. It's no wonder Kang In-gu's wife wants a divorce.

In-gu (Song Kang-ho) isn't thrilled with the way his life is going, either - his daughter hates him, the boss's brother is a screw-up, and the construction job he's just muscled his gang into controlling is causing problems, both with a rival gang and with the workers (though he gets along well with his opposite number in the other gang; they've been best friends since elementary school). He'd quit, but he also wants to buy one of those Western-style houses in the suburbs, but can he really afford it if he goes straight? Being a gangster is all he knows.

Someone coming to The Show Must Go On expecting a comedy will probably be a bit disappointed; although it functions as a sort of parody of the gangster movie genre, writer/director Han Jae-rim opts to rely less on jokes and more on simply sucking the glamor out of the activity. Someone like In-gu is likely never going to become chief, so he's basically stuck in a middle management position, with all the aggravation that entails. One of the funniest sequences has In-gu trying to handle a labor dispute only to find that the contractors know full well that the mob needs them working more than they need publicity, and that their construction equipment trumps the knives and bats the gangsters bring to intimidate them. The audience winds up just feeling sort of sorry for In-gu, especially since the incident leads into another trip to the hospital. A life of danger and violence seems much less sexy if there's a good chance of one's wife and daughter waiting outside the emergency room door becoming a regular event.

The stress of his life hangs over In-gu constantly thanks to Song Kang-ho's great performance. In-gu basically wants to please everyone, and while there are some times when that makes him look kind of pathetic, it does help the audience sympathize with him. Trying to be a good man despite being a hood takes a toll on him, so his body language is almost always slumped over, and there's a note of frustration in his voice even when things are going sort of well. It's countered by his reaction to things outside his work, like his excitement upon looking at the house he plans to buy, the love he feels for his daughter, and the hurt he feels when he discovers just what sort of disdain she has for him. The scene leading up to that is particularly poignant, as In-gu wordlessly pulls photograph albums out of storage and pages through them, remember happier, easier times.

Those must come from memory, because Han Jae-rim's screenplay is a methodical attack on In-gu. Han pulls something of a neat trick in that almost everything that happens in the film feels like a familiar situation for In-gu, but the way they're strung together eventually coalesces into a series of turning points in his life, with each of those turning points basically being a no-win situation. Han handles the film's action sequences very well - they're impressive and even the ones as comedic as the labor dispute feel like they could really hurt In-gu badly; there's a fairly frantic car chase toward the end whose chaos causes and hides a fairly significant event. That's clever use of an action scene, right there. And the way he ends the film is just about perfect.

It does take him a bit of awkward effort to get to that great ending, and sometimes he makes the point about In-gu being trapped in a cycle a bit too well. All in all, "The Show Must Go On" is a very good upending of gangster clichés - something the world in general and Korean film in particular can probably use.

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originally posted: 07/13/07 15:20:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Han Jae-rim

Written by
  Han Jae-rim

  Song Kang-ho
  Park Ji-young
  Oh Dal-su
  Yoon Jae-Moon
  Choi Il-hwa

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