BAD MOVIE (1997)
A chaotic, bacchanalian quasi-documentary on delinquent Seoul teens and their spiralling disillusioned recklessness
In the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis, the back-end of 1990s Korean cinema threw a lens on the economic strife in the country, particularly its impact on its youth.
While the foursome in Park Jung-woo’s Attack the Gas Station (1999) centered their fury on the local gas station, there is a more sprawling ensemble of debaucherous crime-hunting youngsters swaggering around Seoul here.
Shot in a documentary-style, but including some real citizens, most controversially some homeless men, the lines blur between the real and the staged as we jump between various episodes and events.
Titled Timeless Bottomless Bad Movie in some overseas markets, the opening credits pride themselves on the unstructured nature of the film, detailing the ‘No fixed script’ and ‘No fixed actors’ heading our way.
We meet the likes of ‘Birdbrain’, ‘Mr. Potato’ and ‘Douchebag’ and a wider cohort of youths as they attempt to fill the void of boredom with crime, abuse, pranks, violence and sex.
The lust of recklessness courses through the veins of almost every character. Hearing them discuss how someone died of the act they are doing now, but continuing all the same.
Chaos emanates from the characters themselves and their various actions, but also in the kinetic direction. At times they are even purposefully sped up on screen, at others they are sprinting through the alleyways, or jumping out of windows to avoid paying bills.
Sex and sexual favours are handed out on a whim, a combination of a liberated nature, but also one with scant respect for consequences or traditional notions of conduct.
One scene where the blurred lines between real footage and actors at work becomes clearer, for a modern audience at least, is the appearance of Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, The Host, Parasite). Song plays a homeless man, briefly seen joining a street Christian group to clap for Jesus.
Labelled “the most controversial and ruptured film text in the history of Korea” by academic Kyung Hyun Kim, you will have to feel comfortable with the piece-meat filmmaking and the delinquent themes on display.
Is is perhaps the spirit of the wild youths which carries it through. The raw anger, the carefree abandonment. Living for the specific moment. Ignoring the warnings, pretending the cautionary tales do not exist, or matter.
The final passage of the film proves the most challenging. “Bad” has lots of meanings, says one screen character in reaction to the previous episode which showed a gang rape, portraying it as a party-like joyfully passage. This is followed by violence against a woman. You increasingly feel this world you have been submerged in for over two hours is one you now desperately want to exit, which seems to be the point.
Moralistically nihilistic, in what should be a period of youthful joy and discovery is portrayed as a fight for survival on the street. Challenging, but purposefully so, this is teenage rebellion without limits and remains an important film as a touchstone of 90s youth culture.