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August 12, 2010

Flying Boys

flying boys 1.jpg

Ballet Gyoseubso
Byun Young-Joo - 2004
Bitwin Region 3 DVD

The flying in this title refers to the leaps made by the young men, who have found themselves learning the basics of ballet. One could also give a more symbolic spin to the title, as these are high school graduates who are on the verge of leaving home or living more independent lives. Dance is not the focus of Byun Young-Joo's film, which is primarily the story of a group of young men and one young woman, trying to figure out their directions in life, and get a better grasp of their sense of self-identity.

Caught by a ballet teacher driving without a license, Min-Jae and his friends are convinced to take her course in a community center. For the young men, the class is also a way of killing time between going to the college that will accept them following the competitive national examinations. One of the subplots involves another classmate who was part of a gang, looked down by the others, until it is revealed that he is the sole support for himself and his leukemia stricken younger brother. Integrated into the story are glimpses of prejudice based on class and sexual orientation, although Byun also has one humorous moment when an anguished mother wrongly imagines her daughter having a lesbian marriage.

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Aside from a group of matrons who act out of ignorance regarding several children with leukemia, Byun is remarkably egalitarian towards her characters. Being a college student is not regarded as being of greater value than working in a warehouse. In Korea, as in Japan, one can put off going to college for a year if the exam grades are not enough to get the student into a more prestigious school. For the young people in Flying Boys, it is about taking the second or even third choice and making the best of that situation.

The film leads up to the big dance scene. Unlike what might be expected from a Hollywood counterpart, the dancers are not always graceful, and there are several missteps and falls, primarily when the dance class performs classical ballet. The gang comes back for more contemporary moves to the sound of T-Rex's "Bang a Gong", a bit of break dancing, and a lot of booty shaking. One of the boys performs without his shirt, while some of the other boys have bare midriffs. If Byun wasn't a woman, one might think this sequence was directed by a gay man.

I'm not sure if it was intended, but there is a scene with Min-Jae sitting on a park swing that made me recall Takashi Shimura in Ikuru. A more obvious nod to another filmmaker is when Min-Jae and the young woman he's infatuated with Soo-Jin, watch a DVD of Save the Green Planet. Mostly what I got from Flying Boys was appreciation for a film that allowed its character to make mistakes, do some growing up, and respected their right to figure out their own destinies.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 12, 2010 12:05 AM