Details: (M), 124 mins, Korea, Republic of (South Korea), English
Synopsis: Jung-hwa is the leader of a famous all-girl pop group but her mayoral candidate's husband's political ambition threatens to jeopardise her own career dreams.
Star-crossed love gets a K-pop makeover.
Lee Seok-hoon’s irresistibly loopy mash-up of American Idol-style musical fantasy and Robert Redford’s 1972 political fable The Candidate makes for toe-tapping good fun for most of its slightly indulgent 127 minutes.
No one’s booking tickets to Cannes based on this trifle, but the writer/director solidifies his status in the lucrative South Korean romantic-comedy genre (he previously hit it big with 2007’s Two Faces of My Girlfriend) with some energetic staging, an engaging rapport with his game cast, and a light touch with the comedy and melodrama.
A love story between soulmates whose dreams and opportunities take divergent paths, Dancing Queen opens with a sweet meet-cute between two feisty under-10s; jump forward two decades and the adult pair, brought together by fate on a crowded bus, survive a misunderstanding and reconnect over a boozy night. Hwang Jung-Min is a focussed law student, determined to fight the good fight for the under-privileged; Uhm Jung-Hwa is a party girl with stars in her eyes, hoping to become ‘The Madonna of Cheongwon’.
The make headlines when they inadvertently stumble upon a freedom rally (a ridiculous sequence but one that sets the tone for the film’s skewy reality), and then the lovebirds settle into connubial bliss; by 2012, they have a daughter but no money. She teaches aerobics but yearns for what might have been; he still stumbles into headline-grabbing situations but is content to struggle by as a civil-rights lawyer. All this changes when destiny steps in – for Jung-Hwa it’s a second-chance at pop-stardom in a girl-group; for Jung-Min, it is a path to public office.
There are some awkward tonal shifts and glaring nods to coincidence in the film’s first half that make the going tougher than it should be. As their marriage feels the strain, darker elements of both protagonists come to the fore and it isn’t pretty; Hwang Jung-Min, in particular, is a sarcastic jerk at home yet transforms into compassionate lawyer when at the office. Lee also spends a great deal of time within the boardroom of the ruling local government department, where bad-guys Lee Dae-Yeon and Jeong Gyu-Su get to seethe and connive to diminishing effect (admittedly, the detailed portrayal of corrupt, wealthy mid-level bureaucrats may play better at home than abroad).
The formation of the girl group, under the tutelage of fun comic-foil Lee Han-Wi, is handled with similarly unnecessary detail, though the all-pro talent corralled (real-life hoofers Oh Na-Ra, Choi Woo-Ri and Ah-Rong) is far more engaging. Lee shows particular skill in his casting of support players to convey underlying themes – traditional values are stoically conveyed by Kwon Byeong-Kil as Jung-Hwa's father; tough-guy actor Ma Dong-Seok surprises in a cameo as one-half of a gay couple supporting Jung-Min. The director also shows his aplomb as a showman by stunt-casting sultry songstress Lee Hyo-Ri, who made her name in K-Pop girlie-group Fin.K.L.
The third act doesn’t put a foot wrong in that rousing, feel-good way that is the only real reason that these types of films exist. A political rally in which Hwang Jung-Min delivers a teary, idealistic speech is a highlight; the inevitable resurrection of Uhm Jung-Hwa’s A-list ambitions is given the mega-musical treatment. There are just enough smarts and a whole lot of heart on display in Dancing Queen and the result is pleasantly diverting.
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