masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

Action Boys 우린 액션배우다 2008 review

actionboys01Master Lee was thrilled to see this documentary about the daredevils who do the stunts and bodydoubles for Korea’s famous (action) stars (not for the Master of course! He invented action cinema). Action Boys follows the careers of the 36 young men who made it passed the 2004 auditions for the 8th class of the Seoul Action School 서울액션스쿨. Within a month 10 of them dropped out due to the extreme physical and mental demands made on them by the course and with one and a half month to go only 15 aspiring action actors were still going strong. The documentary by Jung Byoung-Gil정병길 introduces the audience to the tough, tough, tough world of stuntmen in Korea, who are never sure of a job, break every bone in their bodies at least thrice, are basically on call 24 hours a day, never become famous (with the exception of Jung Doo-Hong 정두홍, martial arts director and stuntman extraordinaire), but without whom action movies would be just, well, movies I guess. Or they’d be action movies, but Master Lee would be forced to kick some real ass (making the movie a documentary, I guess? Oh, nevermind). Anyway, without these death-defying devils who perform incredible feats such as jumping off walls and bridges, crashing cars (and forgetting to properly lock themselves in their seats) and kick one another’s ass (which sure looks for real), we’d be stuck watching the 20th rerun of Winter Sonata. And that would affect the Master! Hence his demand for respect for these ‘action boys’ and in particular the stars of this documentary: talented but troubled Kweon Gwi-deok 권귀덕, crazy and devoted Kwak Jin-Seok 곽진석, too-handsome-to-be-a-stuntman Shin Seong-Il 신성일, hopeless case Jeon Se-Jin 전세진, and multi-talent Kweon Mun-Jeol 권문철.

This is a cleverly made low-budget documentary, which delicately threads the fine line between ironic commenting and heartfelt empathy. They make you laugh, these hopeless daredevils who just want to hurt themselves and look good while doing so, but they also make you feel for them. And the auditions… have you ever seen a bunch of more self-deluded, positively irredeemable characters (OK, except for all those asses who got their (*&#($% kicked by the Master)? This is also a documentary that gives you a good feel what the Korean film world is like; how difficult it is to attain success and how ephemeral success is once attained. At the same time, the viewer is left with a sense of wonder why these stuntmen do what they do, why they suffer this much for so little recognition and money. Yet, and this is what makes the documentary a successful one, you can kind of see why someone would choose to become a stuntman in Korea. Thumbs up for Action Boys from the Master.

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