Swing Kids (2018) (2018)
January 5, 2019 10:39 AM - Subscribe

In this swinging musical drama set during the Korean War, the soldiers at the Geoje prison camp plan a tap show to distract both themselves and the prisoners from the hardships of war. Led by a former Broadway dancer and a rebellious North Korean soldier, the band of prisoners find a new sense of freedom in dancing. Based on Korean musical "Rho Ki-Soo," written by Jang Woo-Sung and directed by Kim Tae Hyung.
posted by one teak forest (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not to confused with "Swing Kids" (1993)

"Two high school students attempt to be swing kids by night and Hitler Youth by day."
posted by Marky at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Music. Drama. Comedy. Tragedy.

SWING KIDS is now my favorite Christmas movie, though I didn’t have one before this. This choice is partially for the sake of being dramatic, but also because the movie is fun and cool at the same time that it is encouraging all of us to reach out to each other at a human, emotional level, beyond preconceived labels and notions that we definitely already have. Though art may not save lives, it definitely can allow one to feel alive in otherwise impossibly tense and draining circumstances.

Swing Kids is modeled after an existing musical, and I do like this title more than the original “Roh Ki-Soo” because that way the entire crew get to shine a little bit more, and it is a bit of a misleading name, I think, because although the film has swing music it’s more about tap dancing, which is usually, I think, accompanied by jazz, and the soundtrack has a diverse range of genres beyond swing itself. Also, there’s already a film of the same name from the ‘90s, and that annoys me, lol. The inclusion of Hava Nagila surprised the heck out of me, lol, but I enjoyed it!! (Not sure if it really had ever been used by Soviet Russia for dance team purposes?) Having the Bowie song appear during the dance battle was fun but jarring because it’s a song from way later than the ‘50s, and even I noticed that. But I get it: this film is less concerned about realism, and more about mining that particular slice of time to reflect on the current state of the world.

I wonder what the sum of time spent on Korean vs English dialogue would end up being. It felt really balanced between the two, for me, though I feel like Korean speakers speak Hangul at least at lighting speed, faster than Americans and English. I could identify Mandarin and Japanese, but there was very little and I don’t know what the fluency level was.

SPOILERY comments:

I went into this movie with the genres in mind: musical & drama. I got both! With that, the ending of the film shocked me. More than it should have :(. Thus another genre tag that should be added: tragedy. If you’re sensitive to the sight of blood, this film has a moderate amount of it shown, so beware of that. In theatres, I was sitting next to a family with a young child and I warned them about the times there was going to be violence on the screen.

The storyline for the Chinese dancer Xiao Fang was weird-bad, with the weight comments. But the character was allowed to be dreamy and shine, so I liked that a lot. When the team had a practice and he looked up at the cane dangling from the banner, I found his expression hopeful, which really hurt me because of dramatic irony. Jackson was the only one who caught a cane during that practice. The scene between Xiao Fang and Byunsam doing the interpretive and messaging dance was cute as hell.

I did not like that a scene treated women as objects, within the conversation between Kisoo and his older brother Roh Kijin, about their possible life post-war. I suppose a defense of that could be period-typical sexism, but they could have left it out and done some other indication of period thinking, or behavior. Maybe it was supposed to be funny, if considered along with Kisoo’s treatment of Yang Pallae; the false bravado in which he talked about himself in regards to her, to other people. I don’t know how I feel about the old friend who had their limbs gone missing, and became a figurehead, then killed. His behavior and its premises certainly scared me.

The young white man that Kisoo ridiculed, beat, then himself was beat by the white guy, then saved the guy was like a mirror image of Kisoo himself that was White and therefore got to keep his body whole.

Of Yang Pallae, her scene of an argument with Jackson had me utterly charmed for the both of them. FUCK IDEOLOGY, indeed. Her singing scene at the beginning was cool as heck, and her sneak-stealing food was relatable as hell. The many, many hats Yang Pallae wore impressed me: interpreter hustling in four languages, looking after kids, took in KBS’s wife, dance team member, and likely more. That brief frame where she was hauling a load of hay three times her size, like, wow, was definitely my favorite comedic moment. Her dance scene, simultaneous but separate, with Kisoo is one of my favorite uses of visual cinema swerving. (I don’t know any terminology, clearly.) Dancing in the physical world, and in your mind you’re going places confronting and solving and freeing yourself in that very moment. But at the conclusion of the scene, with scrapes and probably more than one bruise, still in a world that’s at a state of war.

Jackson’s story was one I am familiar with in a both intimate and disconnected way, having grown up in and around some military families, spent some time growing up in ‘90s Okinawa, and knew mixed race couples with multi ethnic kids that spoke at least three languages and presented me with a type of America that was drastically different from the one I was finally exposed to, in the decade the followed. The Korean-English banter scenes between Jackson and Kisoo were a bit of ~disbelief suspension~ that was hard to get used to, but upon my second and third viewing, found myself charmed by it. Jackson was eager to build a family, a sense of normalcy, through the war and the way others treated his race, and told the dance team obviously bland & grand lies that he ended up, on his own, dreaming for them all, and in their stead too. I found that so extremely tragic. And so very relatable.

When the bottom of the tap dancing shoe on the corpse shined on Jackson’s face as he was aboard his ride out of camp, I felt a keen sense of sadness at the narrowness of the world, that we people impose on each other. If you’re not outright murdered, you’re made to doubt your own shine, to quell and hide the rhythm in your own heart from others. That hidden shine beneath the soles of every person’s bearing, why do we willingly push each other into toeing the line, when it comes to dreams and capabilities? The world is wide enough for us all.

I wonder about the takeaways for the Korean general public, that I as an American foreigner am missing out. Within the scene betrayal accusations between Kisoo and his friend Manchul, the mole who wanted to see his grandmother again and provide her creatures comforts, are multi-faceted messages about the messy way in which life gets in the way of adhering strictly to an ideology, especially to stay alive. Obviously, with current political tensions, there’s a lot being said with the phrase ‘fuck ideology’ alone. Other than ‘powerful men and war are terrible,’ it’s difficult for me to discern the churning of thoughts I had after the first viewing; two of my friends and I stood in the bright echoing empty cineplex theatre hallway, well after midnight, the three of us discussing the movie and subjects beyond, sharing hugs, and shedding a few tears.

The way the filmmakers ended the movie was unusual (to me, a non-film buff), and I found the sandwiching of the current-future struggling to reconcile a tragic past and ending on the Jared Grimes - Do Kyungsoo dance off very effective, touching, and even hopeful, despite the looming presence of trends that feed pessimism. In the end, General Roberts cared way more about his own comfort, reputation, and petty revenge, than he does about pulling people into the good ol’way of American capitalism. And yet here we are, be it a North/South divide or just about any other big scale conflict where divide and conquer is effective, fighting each other for scraps. Scraps of what, exactly? Food, influence, space. To seemingly suffer less in the short term, at least. What that is worth is different for each person, and is certainly at this moment benefitting the few who are powerful and moneyed and everyone else has been bound up in misinformation, their stomachs and hearts left empty, save for that small bright light hiding beneath you and me.
posted by one teak forest at 9:10 PM on March 18, 2019

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