As soon as I finished Conduct Zero (a.k.a. No Manners, 2002), I went for Round Two. Just thinking about watching it a third time made me salivate.
What is so special about this little movie?
Well, for starters I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I hate when a drama or movie tries too hard to manipulate my feelings, piling on the plot devices in order to milk my tears or laughter. Conduct Zero does none of that.
There’s nothing sleek or manufactured here; on the contrary, the movie has a refreshingly simple plot. As a coming of age story, it is sweet and funny without being sappy or slapstick. And the acting is amazing.
Ryu Seung-beom is perfect in his role as Joong-pil, king of Moonduk High School. I love the tall tales spun about him by the boys in the school, such hilarious storytelling that blows everything out of proportion. In their tales he is a legendary fighter who makes everyone cower in fear. In reality Joong-pil isn’t a bully and his fighting skills are nothing to crow about. He is also not very bright (the guy can’t count), but is infatuated with a pretty and studious girl, Min-hee (Lim Eun-kyeong).
Joong-pil and Min-hee’s first love is what drives the movie and gives it its many sweet and poignant moments.
I love how smitten he is with her and how in her presence he becomes fumbling and unsure, nothing at all like the fearsome fighter he is made out to be. I love how realistically their relationship develops, with neither fanfare nor fireworks. There’s no playing coy here. As ardently as he pursues her, learning the guitar doggedly because she plays it, so she reciprocates just as naturally. Min-hee herself is a surprise, because she looks timid yet is strong and brave. She’s a delight to watch, dorky glasses and all.
In a film with solid acting all around, the standout is Gong Hyo-jin as Na-young.
If Joong-pil is king in his high school, Na-young is queen in hers. Everything that she does (the way she talks, walks, smokes or stares) exudes a don’t-mess-with-me confidence that borders on arrogance. (This is hands down my favorite Gong Hyo-jin role; she is just so incredibly cool here.) But beneath that tough exterior is a girl who likes Joong-pil and who is threatened by her perceived rival, Min-hee. Watch the two girls take on each other!
The best thing in Conduct Zero is Gong Hyo-jin’s chemistry with Ryu Seung-beom. Even though they aren’t a couple in the movie (Joong-pil loves Min-hee, not Na-young), the sparks between them practically fly off the screen. I’m mesmerized by their body language (they are so attuned to each other!) and want to applaud whenever they have a scene together. And why not? I adore the two actors and love the fact that they were a real-life couple at the time of the movie. (They broke up subsequently, but the last I heard they are back together, hurray!)
When I was drawing up my list of Top Ten movies, I was flabbergasted that my favorites seemed to be mostly “heavy” and “masculine” stuff like The Chaser, Crying Fist, Bittersweet Life and Memories of Murder. Surely I had more varied taste than that! I loved funny and quirky, I loved rustic offerings like The Harmonium in My Memory and The Way Home. Which among these should I pick to round up my list? I mulled over the names for a while and then it became startlingly clear.
Conduct Zero, of course.