I bought only two movies when I was visiting Seoul very briefly in 2006: Waikiki Brothers and Barking Dogs Never Bite.
When I think of the hundreds and thousands of offerings in the stores, it feels queer that I picked only these two very obscure titles. Okay, a limited budget was one reason but then again, I’ve never been very normal when it comes to my tastes in K-movies. (Duelist, which I love to itty-bitty bits, is an excellent example of how non-mainstream I am sometimes.) Anyway, I bought Waikiki Brothers because I’m a Park Hae-il fan and this is his debut movie.
Waikiki Brothers (2001) is the name of a dying nightclub band, its members having dwindled from 7 to 4, then 3, then 2… The lead character is Sung-woo and he is played by two actors: Lee-eol as the older taciturn Sung-woo and Park Hae-il as Sung-woo in his teens.
As I was watching the movie, I kept thinking: Koreans will love this movie. Strange that I should think that because I’m not Korean and how would I know what Koreans like? But the movie felt so quintessentially Korean somehow.
This movie is about boyhood aspirations, and falling in love, and struggling to survive in a world where money talks, and where dreams are crushed, and you go to sleep thinking, “What is there to look forward to the next day? How do I survive?”
But it’s also a movie about hope, about holding on to the things that matter. Behind every face is a story waiting to be told, a past you could not have imagined. That ajumma cook in that rundown restaurant? Why, she could be a cabaret singer with moves so seductive your eyes might pop out. That guy who drives the bus you take to work every day? Can you picture him behind the drums in a nightclub, his eyes closed in a dreamlike trance as he plays the songs you know so well?
I bought this movie for Park Hae-il, but the revelation for me was another actor: Ryu Seung-beom. He was mesmerizing in Waikiki Brothers. I loved his enthusiasm and how, when everyone in his right mind wouldn’t want a job with such lousy prospects, that he was doing the opposite: begging to learn how to play the drums because he so wanted to be up there on stage, to perform.
When I finished Waikiki Brothers, a song kept playing in my head and it wasn’t from the movie. No, it was from the drama Ruler of Your Own World (ROYOW). I don’t know… the movie just made me think of ROYOW, maybe because both are about a struggling band, and about dogged determination… and how if you look hard enough, there’s still beauty… and hope… You just got to believe.