Movie Review: My Paparotti (2013)
My Paparotti was my first official review request from a fellow South Korean drama/movie adorer and chingu and this review is my New Year present to her, but also my last writing attempt for 2014. It was a pretty interesting assignment since it was a movie i wasn’t aware of and that was a factor that made the overall mission pretty intriguing. To be honest, when a movie incorporates music as one of its key points I’m always reluctant and the reason has to be the Western movie industry of musicals with the over-abuse of the musical element. And Disney, yes, Disney. The hero and the heroine are happy? They sing to each other all of a sudden with eyes bigger than planets and smiles wider than Joker’s! Are they sad in solitude? Guess what, they sing and we witness them separately in a parallel colliding universe where their woeful cries cross each other’s path! And at moments when you least expect it, yes, they sing again and sing and sing and sing until my ears dislodge themselves from both sides of my head and fight each other on thin air in the bamboo forest of sounds in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon related way. Don’t get me wrong, music is one of the reasons worth living, it’s just that musicals are not to my liking, they never reached my heart and i don’t expect them to do so in the near or far future, you can call it a childhood trauma. However, there are films in which music is not an end in itself, but the implement that rotates the cogwheels of the storyline and makes it shine like the wind longs for a whistle among the leaves. And My Paparotti is one of these films, without making your ears explode through a drawn out musical harassment, but with respect to its musical part, it delivers its captivating aesthetic accompanied by the emotionally sonorous interpretations.
My Paparotti is based on a real story, it’s a factor that always adds another realistic dimension to a movie and/or a drama. It’s palpable proof that purchasing your dreams is worth trying, remaining stagnant was never a synonym of achieving anything. Succeeding is the utmost purpose, but failing is also an option and no matter how devastating it may be it makes you stronger to either try again or move forward on another dream’s journey. And that’s what My Paparotti is about, whether our main figures succeed in realizing their dream or not is up to you to find out, but let’s invest a bit in the plot in case you haven’t watched the film yet. But, Paparotti? I thought it was…
…Pavarotti. The answer lies within one of our main figures’ psyche. Sang Jin (Han Suk Kyu) is a high school music teacher and he’s heading towards the school for an emergency meeting after receiving a phone call from the school’s principal, Deok Saeng (Oh Dal Su – The Attorney, Pirates and Ode to my Father to name just a few of his resent appearances, a few of the many). As he stops by a parking lot, Sang Jin hits lightly another car by mistake, big mistake! Three costumed punks come out and the scenery becomes menacing! Suddenly, the black car’s door opens and another youngster thug comes out, he’s the leader of this lowlife group and makes things easier for Sang Jin by the time he notices the classical music coming out of his car’s stereo. Sang Jin arrives at school and along with Deok Saeng they wait for the new student’s appearance. Sang Jin’s not happy with the overall idea and teaching music isn’t his favorite part of his daily life. He used to be a rising force in opera singing, but a vocal chord tumor faded his star’s radiance overnight. Truth be told, his students are neither talented nor helpful and this makes the overall situation more distressing and the new student is an even greater burden. Surprise! He’s the leader of the lowlife thugs he met earlier at the parking lot, Jang Ho (Lee Je Hoon), who’s been expelled from many schools before and this is his last chance to graduate from high school. Their relationship didn’t start well and it’s not flowing in better terms either as time passes by. Sang Jin considers Jang Ho a gangster and doesn’t want to be around him since thugs have nothing to do with music whereas Jang Ho keeps skipping classes because his boss assigns him dirty business all the time. Jang Ho struggles to make Sang Jin give him a chance to sing in front of him and once he gets his chance the ice between them starts melting and their chemistry becomes warmer as they start sailing together on a singing journey.
Figures around Jang Ho are his gang mentor and the epitome of Epik High’s song title Sensitive Thug , Chang Soo (Cho Jin Woong – Beyond the Clouds in 2014 drama terms, Roaring Currents, We Are Brothers and Kundo: Age of the Rampant in 2014 when it comes to movies and a 2015 intriguing schedule), the playful classmate and overenthusiastic little devil who’s melting at Jang Ho’s sight, Sook Hee (Kang So Ra – Misaeng and Doctor Stranger), his three thug underlings and the ruthless gang boss (Lee Jae Yong – Night Watchman’s Journal earlier this year) and figures close to Sang Min are the school principal, Deok Saeng, his wife (Jin Kyung who’s currently doing an exceptional work on Pinocchio and performed really well on It’s OK, that’s Love earlier this year) and his son. One shouldn’t forget to mention Kim Ji Suk’s (Angel Eyes, I Need Romance 2) cameo and the two odd school figures, the students’ dean (Lee Sang Hoon) and the English teacher (Lee Do Yeon). Becoming a member of a gang is easy, burying the past and leaving behind your life as a gangster is countless times harder. Once you’re part of the “family” the bonds last for a lifetime. How far is Sang Jin willing to go in order to help Jang Ho cut ties with his shady past once and for all? How hard is Jang Ho willing to try and what sacrifices he intends to do in order to achieve his dream? Will he honor his tuxedo? What’s the heartfelt link between him and his special relation to music? Just a few questions and much more i didn’t mention, yet, fellow readers, the answers lie in front of your screen once you decide to watch this intense and heartwarming film.
A special reference must be done to our two main figures and the actors depicting them. It’s not the first time i come across Je Hoon hyung since i highly enjoyed The Front Line as an avid worshiper of good Asian war movies and he’s part of a few movies i intended to watch for a long time, but time wasn’t gentle on me so far (Architecture 101, Bleak Night). He also made a grand drama comeback as the Crown Prince, Sado, on Secret Door earlier this year, in a co-star collaboration with Han Suk Kyu as King Yeong Jo. Suk Kyu ahjussi is a highly acclaimed actor and the first time i came across him was with the emotional oldie Christmas in August and then with the powerful The Berlin File (movies like this year’s The Royal Tailor and another oldie, The Contact, among others, are on my Suk Kyu future list as well).
If you ask me, in films like My Paparotti chemistry is essential and Suk Kyu and Je Hoon’s flourishing blending is omnipresent throughout the movie and it probably set the foundations for their combo in key roles in this year’s Secret Door! Their chemistry in My Paparotti’s boiling in a wide lab’s territory, you can sense their seemingly different worlds, but it’s the void inside each one of them that connects them and the struggle to cleanse their inner demons through their unique interaction that surpasses the typical teacher-student relation. You can witness the distance between them, they are like a magnet’s opposing poles. Yet, the more the movie processes the more the magnetic field around them weakens until they meet at the center, Sang Jin for the dream he violently had to bid farewell, Jang Ho for the dream he desperately wanted to hold in the palms of his hands. Sometimes one’s struggle is not enough, you need an unconditional and sincere push to wake you up, a pulse that will give rhythm to your own vibrations. Sang Jin is the pulse, Jang Ho the vibrations, will he be able to perform his own symphony?
A humorous tone is being presented at times with bright colors throughout the movie and it was definitely required, not only for variety, but also to counterweight the powerful interpretation of the two main leads and ease the tension of the emotionally fortified scenes. Kang So Ra’s playfully quirky character radiates youth in Jang Ho’s inner world that had to mature too early due to the circumstances. The love and hate relationship between Sang Jin and the principal should never be ignored, they don’t fit together in the same room, but at the same time they can’t live apart! And Jang Ho’s underlings and the English teacher alongside the students’ dean with the frustrated prima donna haircut are such a sight! The other students’ singing attempts are an entertaining disturbance as well!
Albeit simplistic, the cinematography resonates a warm ambiance. Most scenes are being shot indoors, at Sang Jin’s house, the school corridors and classes, theaters, clubs, restaurants, etc, but whenever required the school yard, outdoor places and some rare but beautiful landscapes are being vividly shot to present our characters in the open. The lightning factor feels natural and only when the gang element implements itself in the film the scenery darkens whenever required. The storyline isn’t something unimaginable, but that’s where the magic lies, in less complex aspects. Turning something that seems simplistic into something deep with raw realism and blooming emotion is often more difficult than forging something more complex, incoherent and artsy. And scriptwriter Yoo Yoong A (Bel Ami) managed to build a moving verbal atmosphere in combination with director Yoon Jong Chan who performed a really good work emphasizing on the main figures, enriching their performance in order to reach the sentimental heights it deserves. The fight choreography is simply the South Korean way, without the exaggerating factor this time, it’s raw, it’s manly, it’s enough to flutter your adrenaline through its slight presence. The singing parts are stellar. Apparently, it’s not Je Hoon’s voice, but he’s diving vividly into a river of emotion in the very soul of the moment.
My Paparotti is raw but gorgeous, passionate and inspiring. Realistic yet affectionate as it is, chances are high you will enjoy the journey of a nightingale learning to fly in the vast nest of the world.