[HanCinema's Film Review] "Roman Holiday"
By William Schwartz | Published on
Instead of seeming like a very serious enterprise between tough hardened criminals, the opening arms deal of "Roman Holiday" comes off as comically casual. The seller is a foreign huckster, and the buyers are a trio of general nitwits, although both sides do their best to pretend to be cool and unassuming. The ensuing heist made with these weapons goes on about as clumsily, as do all the following scenes until the main characters finally arrive at "Roman Holiday", a nightclub. Or is it more a state of mind?
...Nah, I'm sticking with nightclub. "Roman Holiday" is that all too odd movie - the one that feels like it's just on the verge of being a parody, yet can't quite manage to get all the way there. It's a comedy with too many characters vying to be the straight man. While this is an improvement over being a comedy where everyone tries too hard to be a clown, that improvement is at best marginal.
This is especially true considering the weak attempts being made at drama. See, the lead hijacker In-han (played by Im Chang-jung) wants to steal money for his family. Um, OK? The characterization is basically sympathetic, yet not impressively so, given his overall threatening and thuggish demeanor. It just doesn't go far enough. What's more, In-han's two idiot sidekicks have even less characterization than that. Which is unfortunate, since they're the ones who constantly create crises by not knowing when to put the guns down
Yet other characters, from Police Chief Ahn (played by Kang Shin-il) to even the hostages themselves come to like In-han's crew because he is...sort of nice? Eventually, in between all the threats? I mean look I'm the kind of guy who thinks the term Stockholm Syndrome is thrown about a little too often, and even I thought the madding crowd was a little too much. At one point a person is forced back into the hostage situation by popular appeal of all things.
Because what is this movie anyway, apologism for hostage takers? I write that sentence in jest but honestly, I'm hard-pressed to think of any other reason why "Roman Holiday" even exists. The main highlights, by far, are when the colorful cast of characters are forced to butt heads against one another, sometimes literally, yet these scenes are only momentary reprieves from the main plot. Which is generally about how the three criminal leads act indistuinguishably from straightly played more evil hostage taker film villains- the charm is entirely in their incompetence.
The situational comedy in "Roman Holiday" is pretty good when it takes all these factors into account. I liked the gong show sequence wherein In-han attempts to decide on a one by one basis which hostages deserve priority release. But the more explicitly sympathetic "Roman Holiday" is with the leads, the less funny it becomes, such that by the finale the movie has descended into irrevocable mediocrity and random setpiece scenes with minimal relation to what little there is of a main story. I can't particularly recommend it.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.