Korean Movies

A Korean Movies Review

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hyeong-Rae and the Hulk (1992)

When people talk about Korean cinema, they occasionally mention the need for genre diversification. The lack of science fiction films or musicals is often noted, but there is another genre that needs some attention--children's movies. In particular, live-action children's movies. These have been all but missing from the silver screen in the past decade. Of course there were movies like Galgali Family And Dracula (2003), The Magic Police (2004), Yonggary (2000) and a few obscure releases, but with the film industry producing approximately 70 films a year, one would think they would spend a little more attention to the potentially lucrative market of the pre-teen audience.

This has not always been the case. The 80's and early 90's were filled with titles and series designed to capture the imagination of children. Movies such as the Ulemae titles (a six-part series 1986-1992) were released along with films with titles like Superman Iljimae (1990), Sparkman (1988), Terminator And The Foolish Cop (1993), The Telepathic Journey (1991), and The Star Trio (1991) to name but a few. One name that appears frequently when looking at the credits of children's movies is that of actor/director/comedian Shim Hyeong-rae.

Shim Hyeong-rae's most popular creation to date was the character of Young-gu. How can one describe Young-gu? In movies, his character is depicted as a child in a man's body. He appears to be in his late-30's but still attends elementary school. He is often cowardly, begging to be spared the wrath of angry parents, teachers or villagers but when there is injustice of evil threatening his friends, he finds the courage to face it. His fighting skills are inconsistent, ranging from non-existent to exceptional, but more often than not, he wins battles by shear luck.

Hyeong-Rae And The Hulk by Oh Yo-seop falls in between Young-gu And Count Dracula (1992) and Twin Young-gu's (1992) and the story is, in true cliffhanger style, concluded in the latter film. The plot of the movie is split between two different time periods. The first takes place in modern Seoul and the second occurs in the Joseon era 400 years in the past. The story set in the present focuses on Hyeong-Rae, a very small time-gangster who suddenly finds himself in charge of his 4-member gang. They are involved in a turf war against an equally small, moderately more competent, but much more ruthless gang, led by comedienne Lee Ok-ju. Hyeong-Rae's gang would be hopelessly outclassed except that, in a murder attempt by the other gang, he was exposed to some unknown chemicals that left him with the ability to transform into an incredible Hulk. This is NOT The Incredible Hulk. He is neither green nor muscular but he does have a degree of superhuman strength.

The second story revolves around Young-gu and his friend who are once again defending their village from the supernatural. This has been a tradition in most of the Young-gu films. In one of his first films, Young-gu And Daengchili (1989), the reluctant adventurer battles the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, a were-wolf, a were-fox, a ghost and some gangshi. Gangshi? Those are ghosts, dressed in traditional Chinese attire, who move by hopping with their arms outstretched. They were a staple of Hong Kong films and kid-oriented Korean movies of the late 80's. (Actor Jeong Tae-woo of Fighter in the Wind owes his start in films to his debut as the title character in The Smart Little Gangshi in 1988. He was 6 years old).

These two stories would be completely unrelated except, interestingly, Young-gu and Hyeong-Rae experience each other's lives in their dreams. The story changes between time periods by having one character wake up and commenting that what we just watched was 'just a dream.' This leads the viewer to try to imagine which story he is watching is the 'real' story--at least until another explanation is given. The explanation, not fully revealed in this installment, comes in the form of a time-traveller dressed as a Joseon peasant and three immortal, extra-dimensional beings. The time-traveller reveals himself to Young-gu's young friend before heading off to present day Seoul where he is promptly forgotten about by the writers until the sequel. The immortals appear on a hillside outside of Young-gu's village and plan to kill him, but their leader cautions them to move slowly as they always do. They apparently move so slowly that when the attack comes, it is not on Young-gu, but on the Hyeong-Rae/Hulk. An extended fight ensues and then, quite suddenly and inconclusively, simply ends. A voice-over and trailer informs us that we should wait for the conclusion in Twin Young-gu's.

While the sound and special effects for this movie are far below par, the movie makes up for it with some fun fight scenes--especially those involving the rival gang. Two of the members of that gang were played by professional stuntmen-turned-actors who seem to take great pleasure in throwing themselves over, onto and through things at every available chance. This partially makes up for the uninspired Hulk battles. This Hulk spends most of his time posing, especially striking the posture from The Karate Kid, that one-legged-crane-on-a-post stance, and he does it so often that it becomes very distracting.

However, the movies main saving grace is its heart. Its intent was to be entertaining for children and it goes about trying to achieve that goal with a carefree abandon. This creates a rather Three Stoogish mess of a storyline but the antics of the cast is a hundred times better than the egotistical, self-absorbed mugging of the recent Galgali Family and Dracula.

Hyeong-Rae and the Hulk ("Ddolmani Hyeongraewa Hulk") Directed by Oh Yo-seop. Screenplay by Choi Yeong-seon. Starring Shim Hyeong-rae, Jo Geum-san, Lee Ok-ju, Jeong Gwi-yeong, Park Seung-dae, Lee Mun-su, Kim Jae-hun, Hwang In-jo. Cinematography by Jeong Jae-seung Produced by Seoul Movie Productions. 70 min.


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