Everybody wants a piece of the 80’s these days. Whether it’s the fabulously hilarious wrestling comedy series “Glow”, the gritty crime thriller “Mindhunter” or one very expensive loveletter to “The Goonies” and classic horror films with “Stranger Things”. It was the era of funk and soul. A simpler time when DVD players were a marvel and style was the name of the game! Director Moon Hyeon-seong, best known for his detective comedy film “The King’s Case Note” is looking to get in on the action too. Set in the late 1980s, his film “Seoul Vibe” follows a ragtag group of South Korean racers who must tear through the streets of Seoul to take down an illegal money-laundering organisation. All while the Seoul Summer Olympics is going on in the background.
Moon Hyeon Seong has shown that he’s able to do gripping sports films with “As One”, and comedies with his previous works. So we’re curious to see how he’ll fare with a crime, street-racing caper with “Seoul Vibe”. Will he bring fast fury on screen? Can it keep up with the likes of the “Fast & Furious” films? Let’s find out!
While “Seoul Vibe” is definitely an ode to the American craze in South Korea during the 80’s, the film is anything but a cheap knock-off of American street racing films. What sets the film apart from its western counterparts is the the inclusion of a theme that is quickly prevailing in South Korea: disillusionment with the Korean Miracle. We won’t bore you with the details. Basically, South Korea saw rapid economic growth due to the nation’s adoption of state-led capitalism. One of the major watershed moments of the phenomenon that open the way for South Korea to be viewed as an economic powerhouse in East Asia was the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988.
Beneath the homages and celebration of the film’s love for 80’s’ American-inspired South Korean aesthetics, Moon Hyeon-seong’s film has something to say about the rampant corruption that took place within the national reconstructing of the Korean economy. This particular moment of history provides a rich and fascinating backdrop to the high-octane rubber burning antics of speedracer Dong-wook and the Sangedong Supreme team. Don’t get us wrong, “Seoul Vibe” is still very much a five-man-band racing film in the vein of “Baby Driver”. It just has a little more going for it than the average film about a race crew going undercover.
One thing that “Seoul Vibe” absolutely nails without a shadow of a doubt is the on-screen camaraderie between all five members of the Sangedong Supreme team. Do they embody certain stereotypes like the smooth-operator, the tomboy and the sweet grease-monkey? Yes but damn it, we they’re just such a lovable bunch that you’re willing to just roll with it. They even have their very own Mr. Nobody in the form of their government handler, Attorney Ahn. This by large thanks to writer Sua Shin who manages weave genuinely funny moments of levity in between criminal drama. They’re an utterly adorkable crew who each have their own unique moment to shine.
One minor criticism we have for the film though is its bloated runtime of a little over two hours. There are some pretty endearing moments chronicling the the team’s rise with each successful ride with some sick montage sequences That being said, we can’t help but feel the film could have trimmed off a bit of weight. Or at least dedicate more screen time to fleshing out the team’s past or showing some sweet, sweet vehicular action. The espionage aspect of the film is done with a lot of panache and fun, especially when it comes to John Woo-Sam, or John Bond, as the unlikely casanova would prefer to be called.
As for the actual street races and car chases in the film, they’re tonally different from the ones you’d see in the “Fast & Furious” films. They aren’t trying to dazzle you with over-the-top spectacle or make you bite your lip off with brutal metal on metal carnage. It’s all about the sick drifts and quick maneuvers baby! Think “Initial D” or “Baby Driver”. There are multiple quick flashes and changes in perspectives that’s meant to connote the speed of the vehicle and reflexes of the driver. All set to some pretty funky 80’s bops currated by Woo-Sam himself. Long after the credits roll, we’re still humming Run-D.M.C.!
What really sells the entire film though are the performances by the main cast of five. Characters like Yoo Ah-in’s Woo-Sam and Ong Seong-wu’s Joon-ki are hilarious as the DJ and handyman to the team. Bringing levity and good bit of scondrel humour to the whole affair. Lee Kyu-hyung serves as the old soul of the crew with lovable paternal charm as Bok-nam. Our favourite has got to be Park Ju-hyun’s Yoon-hee though, proving herself to be a colourful character of many talents! It’s all anchored by a spirited performance Yoo Ah-in as the moody but ultimately noble smuggler Dong-wook. Watching him slowly unravel his defences in the name of *shudders with cringe* family makes him a layered and intriguing protagonist. Like a well-oiled Hyundai Grandeur, the cast chemistry is firing on all cylinders!
Supporting cast member of Oh Jung-se as Attorney Ahn acts a amusing foil to the team’s worldly ways with his dry wit and sardonic remarks. The villains of the film, though, leave much to be desired. Moon So-ri does a decent enough job as the sly Ms Kang but Kim Sung-kyun’s Director Lee is hammy, tired cliche. We get it, you’re a power-crazed, violent erratic gangster, you sit with Tuco over there!
Moon Hyeon Seong’s “Seoul Vibe” is a infectiously fun romp with old-school rubber-burning action and electrifying performances by the main cast of five. In spite some need of polish and a little bit of motor oil, we can definitely see this property going the distance. It’s got all the makings of a great ragtag criminal comedy franchise. We sincerely hope that Moon Hyeon Seong and company return for another round of fast fun! Also please, please bring back Song Min-ho’s Galchi! The rapper’s got some acting chops on him.
Be sure to check out “Seoul Vibe” on Netflix on 26th August!
Netflix's "Seoul Vibe" Review
Moon Hyeon Seong's "Seoul Vibe" is a infectiously fun romp with old-school rubber-burning action and electrifying performances by the main cast of five. In spite some need of polish and a little bit of motor oil, we can definitely see this property going the distance. It's got all the makings of a great ragtag criminal comedy franchise.
Netflix's "Seoul Vibe" Review