HOPELESS – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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Hong Xa-bin as struggling teen Yeon-gyu, in the South Korean gritty drama HOPELESS. Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

I’ve praised many Korean crime and action exports recently. HOPELESS will not be one of them, perhaps due to high expectations following the others. This one is aptly titled, providing a depressing tale set among the bottom of the urban economic ladder, and the limited options available to the youth and adults stuck in the slums.

The protagonist is Yeon-gyu (Hong Xa-bin), a teen who just wants to keep his distance from an abusive stepfather and finish his education without hassles. He’s a good guy who would do well in most other circumstances. But in this neighborhood, his efforts to help others turn out to be futile, or worse, including losing his menial part-time job . Local thugs add to his woes, driving him into the crime realm for physical and financial survival. He starts by stealing motorcycles, then reluctantly works his way into more violent duties. His guilt over what he’s ordered to do, keeps us on his side more than if he’d turned into a Scarface.

There is some gritty, realistic-scale action but this one’s mostly a dour drama of people trapped in the mire of their environment. Sets and lighting are excellent for establishing the fatalistic gloom and doom of its inhabitants. The acting and direction are competent but the script leaves much to be desired. Some decisions and actions make little sense.

Since Kim Chang-hoon was both writer and director, he batted one-for-two on this outing, which may not be so bad for someone doing either for the first time. The bits of backstories tossed in are subpar for establishing identifiable personae. The final scene feels like a studio-imposed outcome that rings false after all that preceded it. Approaching this as a sociological character drama, rather than a crime action flick, should maximize what you take away from the experience. And remembering that there’s a rookie at the helm may suitably lower expectation.

HOPELESS, in Korean with English subtitles, streams on Well Go USA Entertainment starting June 25.

RATING: 1.5 out of 4 stars