I’d been planning to see the movie “Veteran” with Yoo Ah In for a few weeks, ever since I heard it was coming to the LA area. I thought it would include a trip to DTLA, so I was hoping I could interest some other YAI fans in a meet-up. (Furbabe graciously let me ask away on her YAI blog.) Drat. No takers. Then I had a huge stroke of luck–DramaFever advertised a free screening of the movie earlier this week–at a theater much closer to my house! And the director was going to be there too!
Since I am smack dab in the middle of Broken Appliance Hell with my washing machine, that sounded great to me. I printed out my ticket–then realized I could have just had it sent to my phone. Aish! I am such a dinosaur! It’s been years since I have seen a movie in a theater. Nothing really interests me enough to pay $12+ for a movie ticket. On Demand cable, Amazon Prime, DF, Viki, and Netflix has a lot to do with that. I am content to wait until I can watch a movie in the relative comfort of my own home, with popcorn and soda that is reasonably priced, and no cell phones going off or yakky people. (Gosh, I sound like a grumpy old person!) This time, though, I wanted the whole experience.
I read the review of “Veteran” on the Noonas Over Forks Website and this one on Furbabe’s blog. I kinda had an idea of what I was getting into. Still I was a little nervous. I hoped the movie would be fun, and not gratuitously violent.
I had to work all day before the movie, which was from 7-10 pm on a Thursday evening. I wondered–Would this be a blogworthy event, a totally fun and crazy happening? Or would it be a huge bust, like when I attempted to crash the first piano competition I went to. (I was successful on a later attempt to legitimately attend a real piano competition–I was determined to see one in RL while I was intensively working on the SLA FF.) Would it be crowded? Would there be any non-Koreans there, or would I be the only one? The Writer/Director Ryoo Seung Wan was supposed to be there for a Q&A session afterward too. How cool was that? I was so excited–but of course I couldn’t say a word at work, lest I be declared even more crazy than I already am. I was lucky enough to have my last patient cancel, so I had plenty of time to change into my ‘civilian’ clothes and get over to the theater.
The theater is in a neighborhood I lived in 25+ years ago when my now ex-husband and I were newly married. It was a big dump back then, but has now been totally revitalized into a Koreatown second only to DTLA in my area of SoCal. It is larger and far more upscale than the Koreatown closer to my current home. There’s several Korean supermarkets and tons of Korean restaurants and small businesses–even a rice cake shop that looks a whole lot like the one in “Glorious Days”. Whoa! I may need to get some rice cakes. I’ve always wanted to try them since watching that show, and Chuseok is coming up. I pull up to the multiplex theater. Hmm. No lines, no throngs of people waiting to get in, no hoopla of any kind. Looks like a typical sleepy Thursday night at the movies. Well, it’s a little early…I sit in my car and wait, watching the barely subbed “Yong Pal” on my phone.
Finally at 6:45, I go into the theater. I check in with my dino paper ticket, and the nice young ladies at the table give me a paper fan-thing:
and a little blue ticket. Woot! Will there be a drawing for some movie swag later? No info, but I put the ticket in the pocket of my purse just in case. I think about some popcorn, but cannot mentally cope with an $8 box of popcorn, so I find a seat in the theater. It’s a surprisingly small theater, but very comfortable. I feel like I am in a large living room, hanging out with my cool Korean neighbors. Out of the approximately 200 attendees, there were probably 6 non-Koreans, including me. I take a seat toward the back, mostly so I can watch the whole audience (like HW watching SJ from the balcony at the concert, heh!) and so I can sit near the aisle because of my claustrophobia. I note that there are no children at all in the theater. No high schoolers either. This is all adults, possibly all over 21. I find out soon enough–it’s for a good reason.
The movie starts off strong. Hwang Jung Min is Do Cheol–a perpetually harassed and beleaguered police detective. He and his teammate (introduced as Miss Bong) are undercover as a player and his mistress, and he’s about to buy a stolen Mercedes for her as part of a sting operation. Right here, I am happy. I love cars. Movies about cars usually have cool car chases, and I love those too. The sting does not quite go as planned, of course, and it’s pretty funny to watch the hi-jinks, including a car chase scene with Miss Bong tearing up the streets of Seoul. Do Cheol looks like a cool boss; he has the respect of his teammates, and he even has empathy for a truck driver (a nearly unrecognizable Jeong Woong In aka Dr. Lee from “Yong Pal”) who complains he hauls cars but doesn’t get paid by his boss. DC gives him a business card and invites him to give him a call if there’s further paycheck problems. It’s a shame DC and Mrs. Cop don’t work together. I’d pay some serious money for a ticket for that show. The audience seems pretty happy, people are laughing, and everything is cool. I’m impressed. This is a darn good movie. I think US audiences might like a throwback action film like this. HJM seems equally good with the comedy as with the more serious moments, and he moves between them effortlessly.
Then the movie switches over to Yoo Ah In’s character of Jo Tae Oh. Wow. YAI looks so thin; his face has razor sharp angles, and even though I’ve heard the cameras add 10 lbs to a person, I have no idea where those might be on him. I can’t believe how different YAI looks from the healthy and almost rugged-looking Seon Jae in the first episodes of SLA. And it’s not just his expensive tailored suit or his perfectly slicked back hair either. The first thing JTO does is a line of coke–and I’m not talking about the soda here! He’s this fantastically rich party dude who is watching, and betting on these two guys having an arm wrestling match. He’s got a cigar in his mouth….and then he puts it out on the neck of one of the wrestlers!! Holy Crap! The whole theater got so quiet, so quick; it was chilling. You could have heard a pin drop. I looked around at the people sitting close to me. The utter shock on their faces…it’s hard to describe. If YAI had sprouted 3 heads out of his neck at that moment, it would have been less disturbing.
As the movie progressed, JTO became more and more mentally unhinged. Personally, the only character in a movie I’ve ever seen do this much nose candy was Priest in “Super Fly”. Every time JTO did something crazy-scary, the theater got super quiet. It felt like the air was being sucked out of the building. The disapproval I could sense from the audience was profound. JTO broke his bodyguard-applicant’s ankle, forced a bloody fistfight between the truck driver and his boss (in front of the truck drivers young son, who is assuredly now traumatized for life), he smashes food in some girl’s face and he beats his dog with a golf club (not shown, but heard–and still horrific.) The audience’s reaction to the scene with the dog was pure revulsion. Quotes from the twenty-something girls sitting next to me, speaking in both Korean and English: “OMG, the dog…please oppa not the dog, 제발 (Jebal), OMG…WTF?” I also heard a lot of people saying, “Heol!” during the most frightening JTO scenes. At the end of the film, during a drug-fueled monster rave party, JTO finds out his GF is pregnant….so he beats her, then holds her down and injects some kind of drug into her multiple times, even after she tells him she will abort the baby. Her fate is not dealt with in the movie, so we are left to guess at the extent of the undoubtedly negative outcome. My three loyal readers know what Shamrockmom thinks about violence toward women, especially pregnant women, so I won’t expound on that here. I will give YAI credit–he makes a very convincing psychopath in this movie. He can certainly hold his own in a starring role with the best of Korea’s actors. When he does finish his Military Service, there should be piles and piles of movie and TV scripts for him to choose from. The trick will be making the right project choices.
Honestly, I felt it was way over the top for the writer/director to create a character like this. JTO could have been less of a psychopath, and the movie would have been just fine. It was never really explained why JTO was such a nutcase, although “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is a possibility. In one scene, JTO’s father brutally beats his secretary with a walking stick for not “cleaning up the mess” of JTO’s staging the attempted suicide of the unpaid truck driver. There was also some talk about JTO wanting his share of the company, and his siblings’ share as well. Still, the character of JTO is too one-dimensional. He’s a baddie who has money and power, and is a psychopath to boot. But that’s all we know. Unlike other great baddies (the “Dad” character in City Hunter, or more recently, Heung Sam in “Last”) we never really understand why he became the way he is. Maybe it was because a movie is 2 hours and a TV drama is 16+ hours, so there is additional time to develop the character. The director stated in the Q&A session that YAI wanted to take on a villainous role, because “he felt typecast as an idol and a heartthrob”, and he didn’t want that image anymore. I can’t even wrap my brain around that statement. What a crying shame YAI feels that way. He’s done too many different roles in TV and in movies for that statement to be true IMHO. If YAI wanted a “villain” role as a change-up, okay, I understand that. But taking on this role as a scary, coke-snorting, spoiled brat psychopath who has no depth, and no discernible motivation other than “I am rich and can do whatever I darn well please” is probably not the way to go if he wants to shed his personally perceived image of “idol and heartthrob”. That’s a concept I think only exists between YAI’s two ears.
Even at a full two hours, the movie was fast paced. It reminded me a lot of the original “Beverly Hills Cop” movie. Another similarity to that movie–plenty of swearing. I wonder if the subbers for the movie cleaned it up, because I think that there were differences between the swearing I could hear, and the subs. But then again, there was another scene where I hear a character say. “앉아” (anja) which is “Sit down” but the subbers give it the extra: “Sit your ass down”. Interesting. The soundtrack was appropriately exciting, and went well with the movie. No one moved from their seats during the movie, and everyone clapped politely–but not exuberantly–at the end of the show.
I have to hand it to the director for creating not one but two great female characters. Miss Bong is absolutely great as the only female cop on DC’s team, and she even got to put the final blow on JTO at the very end of the film. Daebak! She never backed down from a fight–in fact, she was a great fighter, and provided some much needed comedic moments too. DC’s wife was another favorite character of mine in the movie. In one scene, the baddies try to bribe her (to get DC to drop the investigation of JTO) with an expensive designer handbag stuffed with stacks of Won notes. She hilariously opens the box up in the restaurant, loudly declaring she already has a handbag like this at home! She then asks in the same loud voice if this is a bribe as she piles the cash on the table. It was a fun scene. To prove she is no wilting flower, she then takes her husband to task–in front of his co-workers at the police station, no less–about being harassed by the baddies. And how she wavered as she saw the cash they could have dearly used for a down payment on a home. So awesome. These two ladies were a real highlight for me to watch. No doormats here!
The Q&A session with Ryoo Seong Wan was interesting, even if it was marred by technological failures (the microphones kept malfunctioning). I was kind of far away, but here is a pic…RSW is on the right:
The translator/hostess lady was a little flustered, but did her best under trying circumstances. RSW looked much younger than I thought he would be (he’s in his early 40’s) and I knew he directed the film, but I didn’t know that he wrote it too. He said he had certain actors in mind for some of the roles of the police team when he was writing the screenplay. He also said YAI was not allowed to leave Korea because of his upcoming military service deadline, or he would have been promoting the movie in the US with RSW like he did in Korea. Whoa! That statement caused a quite a buzz from the audience–lots of gasps! Multiple actors turned down the role of JTO, fearing what portraying a psychopath would do to their public image. I can totally understand this now after seeing the movie, and I couldn’t blame them one bit for thinking that way. The audience also got to find out that RSW doesn’t like CGI, so all the stunts in the movie were done the old-fashioned way–with stuntmen! (Probably why this movie reminded me of BHC–no CGI back in 1984.) One of the stuntmen was gravely injured while shooting the final scene–and nearly had his throat cut by accident. Luckily he was okay. The movie took 3 months to shoot (April to June of 2014), but another year plus to edit and put it all together. RSW took a few questions (in Korean and English) from the audience too. One lady asked him about his characterizations of rich people always being the evil baddies, and the poor folks always being the good guys. Heh. I’ve noted that is a common theme in K-dramas too. His answer was pretty good–movies are not real life, and in RL, there can be good rich people and bad poor people. I wish he would have added, “Because the money makes it easier to get your way, and power tends to corrupt.” There is a sequel to “Veteran” in the works which will be made in the next 2-3 years. It was expressly stated that YAI will not be a part of the sequel.
And that was it! No swag bag giveaway. Bummer. Probably 3/4 of the moviegoers stayed around for the Q&A session, so there were a lot of us leaving the theater at the same time. Just as I got out of the theater, I was stopped by a young Korean gentleman with a video camera–who then asked me (in perfect SoCal English) if he could interview me quickly about the movie. I was stunned. He explained it was for a Korean TV station; they wanted to know what non-Asians thought about the movie, and why we came out to see it. Really?! I’ll be honest–my first inclination was to politely decline. I prefer to remain blissfully anonymous. But instead I said, “I’m not really sure I can do this.”
“Don’t worry…I’ll just ask you a few questions. What’s your name?”
And I give him my real name. WTH. I shoulda made something up. Uh, oh. Suddenly, my mouth is dry. I have no idea how I can do this. I can’t even think. I am sure I looked like a complete dork on camera. No, it was worse than that. I have so many things to process in my head about what I’ve just seen. I can hardly get any coherent words out. Oh well, they’ll probably never use the clip anyways. If I’m lucky. OMG. What was I thinking? I’ve done some crazy stuff in the name of SLA and the FanFic but this is a topper, no question about it. I would have never watched this movie if I had not seen YAI in SLA. So it’s all connected, as it always seems to be for me. I have no idea if I made the news or not–I didn’t watch any Korean TV last night or tonight. I hung around for a little bit, trying to eavesdrop on any conversations about the movie, but everyone left pretty quickly, so I didn’t get a true feel for the audience reaction after the movie was over. Here’s a pic of another person who was interviewed for Korean TV by the same dude who interviewed me:
And a couple more pics of the check in table and posters inside the theater:
Okay, so here’s the bottom line:
Did I like the movie? Yeah, it was not too bad. I wish there had been a FF button so I wouldn’t have to see the disturbing parts. I think US audiences would enjoy this movie, if they can get past the idea of the subtitles. It moves fast, and the humor transcends cultures. Everyone likes to see car chases and bad guys trying to get away with stuff.
Would I recommend the movie to others? Yes, with caution. And do not bring the kiddies or the high schoolers. 18+, due to the OTT violence from JTO.
Was I glad I didn’t drive 2 hours into LA and pay $15 for a ticket and even more for parking? Heck yeah. But I would have done it if that was my only option. This megaplex theater 30 minutes from my house shows all the latest and greatest Korean films–“Assassination” was playing there too. I like that I have a new option to go see a Korean movie when I want to without the huge commute.
Would I watch it again? Maybe. I am sure “Veteran” will come to DF or DramaCool within 6 months. It might be interesting to rewatch and see if I missed anything major. It did move pretty fast.
Will I go and watch “The Throne” with YAI? Nope–no way. I know I could not mentally handle the concept of watching someone being locked alive in a box. I’m totally out. But I do plan to check out “Six Flying Dragons”.
What would I say to YAI about his role in this movie? Well, since he is old enough to be my son, I would talk to him like he was one of my children’s twenty-something friends who asked me for career advice. I’d say that although I completely respect that he has to choose roles that he feels suit him and expand his repertoire as an actor, taking on the role of a villain who is not given a strong motivation for his evil behavior other than “I’m a psychopathic drug-addled rich entitled jerk” is not going to help him in the long run. YAI, if you wanna be a baddie, then you need to be an interesting and properly motivated baddie. Showing you can play a character like this is a great short-term decision, but you might want to look for more complex roles that will allow you to shine as an actor. You have the ability to show so many emotions with your facial expressions alone. If you brought the character of Seon Jae to life, you can do the same with a evil character–or any character–in the future.