Cast: Hwang Jung-min, Lee Eol, Oh Ji-hye, Park Won-Sang
Best Film, 2002 Baeksang Arts Awards
Best Director, 2001 Korean Association of Film Critics Award
NETPAC Award Special Mention, 2001 Pusan International Film Festival
Yim Soon-Rye’s landmark second film WAIKIKI BROTHERS established her squarely as an important voice in Korea’s New Wave, one who would later be overlooked by canonizing texts in favor of her more flamboyant male peers. This has made the film hard to find, despite a long career that followed, including popular hits such as Forever the Moment and Little Forest (SDAFF ’18). Filled with Korea’s future superstars and delivering one of cinema’s most iconic scenes in a naked karaoke room, WAIKIKI BROTHERS builds quietly with compassion and drily comedic turns, and has only gotten better with time.
In the shadow of Korea’s late 90’s financial crisis, WAIKIKI BROTHERS begins with depletion. Where another film might focus on chasing a dream, Yim begins with “What now?” after the dream is clearly not going to happen. The story of a struggling cover band returning to a faded hotel in a faded hometown, the band Waikiki Brothers has gone from seven to three players, and music has become a job cobbled together with gigs at Ms. Chili Pepper beauty contests and funerals. An invitation to play at a dwindling nightclub offers one last gasp, perhaps not for glory, but to continue one more day. But once in his hometown, bandleader Sung-woo (Lee Eol), the quiet eye of an aimless storm, watches his emotional bandmates (a fantastic Hwang Jung-min and Park Won-Sang) unravel with addiction and womanizing. Yim mixes palpable storylines with feeling – lively high school flashbacks, an old flame (Oh Ji-hye) grown into a bold truck driver, Sung-woo’s original bandmates now turned professionals, and a blonde-dyed young clerk (Ryu Seung-bum) who desperately wants to join the band, undaunted by their unheroic results.
Anti-heroics might be one of Yim’s core themes, not through cynicism but through resilience – the band’s endurance, the many hats of small town jobs, and the signs of life heard in singing snuck throughout the film – from rousing covers of 70’s pop songs, to impersonators, karaoke ballads, private ditties, and a final set that redefines what a good ending really sounds like.
– Christina Ree