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March 11, 2008

Bravo My Life

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Saranghae Malsoonssi
Park Heung-Sik - 2005
J-Bics Region 3 DVD

There are only a handful of actors I'll see in virtually anything, and Moon So-Ri is one of them. Bravo My Life is not in the same league as Oasis, A Good Lawyer's Wife or even Bewitching Attraction. Moon has virtually a supporting role as the mother of the teenage boy, the central character of the film. Bravo My Life is a flawed film, but Moon's performance is just about perfect.

The film begins on October 27, 1979, when news was published about the assassination of Korean President Park Chung-Hee. I have to assume that the date was chosen to provide something of a counterpoint, the turmoil of a nation against the turmoil of adolescence. The main character, Gwang-Ho, is a short, pimple faced youth attempting to grope with a sense of being a man, but still very much a child. His father is absent, working in Saudi Arabia, while his mother attempts to eke out a living for her son and young daughter by working as an itinerant make-up sales person.

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Park Heung-Sik fills the film with slightly colorful characters such as the class "bad boy", who may or may not have cut off his own finger to demonstrate his toughness, or the neighbor boy with Down's syndrome who appears to exist solely to embarrass Gwang-Ho. it is only Gwang-Ho's mother who emerges as more than a cipher, large part because Moon's ability to immerse herself into the character. Keeping her sense of humor while coping with an unnamed illness, the mother alternates between total plainness and being overly made-up. There is no moment of amazement such as in Oasis when one realizes that the woman seen through much of the film does not have cerebral palsy. In Bravo My Life, Moon's finest moment is of her simply sitting in a chair, laughing with affection about her son, and the neighbor boy who constantly sings one song off key.

The problem with Bravo My Life is that while there are several nice moments, there is not enough to cohere into a satisfying film. Among the nice touches is when Gwang-Ho sees the young assistant nurse, the object of his erotic dreams, dancing behind the paper screen to a tune by Ritchie Valens. Later the two are seen reading comic books together, seen first with their feet in the air as they read on the floor. The weakness of the narrative is that Park creates some potentially interesting characters and plot developments that end up being forgotten by the end of the film. The use of a character with Down's syndrome seems especially gimmicky at best, done for cheap laughs and cheaper pathos. I'm not the only writer to think highly of Moon So-Ri. Bravo My Life may be one of her lesser credits, but Moon almost single handedly keeps the film from being negligible.

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Posted by peter at March 11, 2008 02:39 PM