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Entering the whacky manga territory: just so you know what you are in for…

Year: 2006
Director: E J-yong (이재용)
Screenplay: Choi Jin-seong (최진성), E J-yong (이재용)
Cinematography: Jeong Jeong-hoon
Cast: Kim Ok-bin (김옥빈), Lee Kyeon (이켠), Park Jin-woo (박진우), Eu-seong (은성), Kim Byeol (김별), Nam Oh-jeong (남호정), Park Hye-won (박혜원), Lee Won-jong (이원종), among others
Runtime: 111 min
Trailer: on YouTube

Seen at the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK) during the E J-yong (이재용) month of KCCUK’s Korean Film Night programme “2012: Year of the 12 Directors”.

Dasepo Sonyeo is the kind of film that I never have many expectations for because it falls into that whacky, exaggerated comedy format that rarely works for me. Based on a web manga (or rather, with the source material being Korean, a manhwa), which frequently operate in the realm of an alternate reality, the ‘way out there’ feel is reinforced. That, in fact, isn’t bad news: it’s much easier to submit yourself to Dasepo Sonyeo‘s outlandishness, its weird sense of humour and blindingly bright colour palette (pink girls! orange school skirts! purple school trousers!) if you know that this is where the film stems from.

Dasepo Sonyeo serves us with a whole lot of characters – the students of No Use High – but not much in terms of a story. We observe a number of them in their final year at the rather unconventional No Use High, which is – as the name already suggests – unlike any other educational institution in Korea, north or south. The opening scene thus sees a substitute announce that the regular teacher is absent due to having caught an STD after sleeping with a teenage prostitute, all but two students soon exiting the classroom in a hurry. They all have, it turns out, either slept with the teacher or slept with someone who slept with the teacher or slept with someone who slept with someone who slept with the teacher or …you get the picture. Left behind are Poor Girl (Kim Ok-bin), who however soon runs off herself to meet a client (yes, that kind of client), and the sad, one-eyed Cyclops (Lee Kyeon), the school’s sole virgin.

BFFs: Poor Girl and ‘Big Razor Sis’, her rather adorable cross-dressing ajusshi client

Poor Girl and Cyclops are among a number of students we get to know a bit better throughout the film, others include Anthony (Park Jin-woo), a wealthy, always impeccably groomed transferee from Switzerland, who occasionally is inclined to yodelling and shockingly falls in love with Cyclop’s transgender sister Two Eyes (Eun-seong); beautiful Bellflower (Kim Byeol) who seems innocent on the surface but uses textbooks that contain dirty-minded scribbles; and Class Monitor (Park Hye-won) who enjoys giving her teachers a whipping and is often followed around by two of her male classmates. We accompany these high schoolers through their personal trials and tribulations, some serious, many less so. Although they are all members of the same class and appear in several common scenes, the film is largely episodic in nature. We get only glimpses into each person’s life and of them as individuals, meaning that it is difficult to truly get invested in their stories or in the story overall, because there does not seem to be one. A climax is attempted – a field of gyrating students emitting their yin and yang powers towards a green, smoke-emitting snake-dragon that eventually flies off towards the moon. The scene has too little connection to what preceded it, and also does not matter for the denouement that follows, consequently failing to tie loose ends together and leaving viewers still as much with a story-less film as before.

Poor Girl and Rich Boy (Anthony)

What Dasepo Sonyeo does provide is some whacky fun, even if that wackiness and fun don’t bite quite as much as they could have. The musical performances with the aforementioned pink girls, as well as white nuns and black burka-clad students are random and weird, yet at the same time rather tamely rely on clichéd imagery. Similarly, characters like the cross-dressing ajusshi (Lee Won-jong) are enjoyable, what I missed, however, was unpredictability and novelty that could have added substance to Dasepo Sonyeo. Perhaps I was asking for too much, but Dasepo Sonyeo never was just fluff: viewed within the context of Korean cinema and Korean culture it was in some way rather daring and brought up a lot of taboo issues, even if just by joking about them, starting from the very fact that it presented teenagers as sexually active. Although never at the level of the original webcomic (which was rated 19, the legal age in Korea), the film (rated 15) did talk plenty and bluntly about sex without ever showing or even implying it (notably, the Poor Girl’s clients never actually want sex). Dasepo Sonyeo also features just about every form of sexuality – the promiscuous high schooler, the sadomasochist, the adult cross dresser, the transgendered person, the gay student, even the virgin – but what did this all add up to? That I am not too sure about as it sometimes felt like that these were just words mentioned, rather than taboos that were actually tackled. Of course, the whole purpose of Dasepo Sonyeo may have been to simply provide a stage for everything and everyone without giving viewers a narrative or any deeper meaning to explore, but that is also why the film, sufficiently entertaining as it may be for a couple of hours, will soon end up forgotten by viewers.

Overall Verdict: Without much of a story or any deeper meaning, Dasepo Sonyeo provides a good laugh or two, or even ten – but not much more than that.

Rating: 6/10

Bonus Bits (more like ‘afterthoughts’ this time):

  • E J-yong’s filmography seems curiously diverse, and other than his taste for scandalous and controversial, his work seems almost as if different people could have made it. It’s a pity I will have to judge him on the basis of two films only – I unfortunately missed the first screening of KCCUK’s E J-yong (이재용) month정사 (Jeong Sa/An Affair, 1998) and won’t make it to 스캔들 – 조선 남녀 상열지사 (Seukandeul – Joseon namnyeo sang’yeoljisa/Untold Scandal, 2003) this Thursday either.
  • I’m still wondering about the title. Why Dasepo Naughty Girls (rather than Girls and Boys?)?
  • A very interesting and informative (if rather lengthy) blog post on the filmic and cultural contexts of Dasepo Sonyeo.

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