Choo-won (played by Seo Jun-young), Goo-rim (played by Baek Sung-hyun), Dae-seong (played by Choi Tae-hwan), and Seo-won (played by Byun Joon-suk) are four friends of differing talents and temperaments with one common goal in life- gotta go fast. This is a generally good goal in life to have, given that they start the movie out running away from the cops and then spend the rest of it running away from other troublesome obstacles. Like vomit. Drug withdrawal. And vomit. An oppressively rapey school environment. And vomit. Seo-won's mortality. And also more vomit.
Yes, director Lee Sang-woo-IV seems to have a thing for bodily discharges. Well, he's never shied away from making gross movies before so why start now? Because "Speed" is, principally speaking, a very gross film. The violence and sex never get all that explicit but there's always this constant sense of the film's characters being very unbecoming people. The teenage characters manage to attract some sympathy by not being as obviously terrible as the adults we run into but even so. There's only so many times a person can spit in a single scene before we're about at the point of self-parody.
The main redeeming quality of "Speed" is that its tone is surprisingly open-ended. Every so often, for example, one terrible person gets the snot kicked out of them. Usually literally. Even so by the end of the movie several terrible people are still alive so the film obviously isn't all that concerned with giving its audience much satisfaction in terms of just desserts. "Speed" is about the dark side of youth, and explores how the existence of a dark side does not necessarily imply the existence of a light side.
Instead there's just fleeting, mostly meaningless images of beauty. By far the movie's greatest shot, and indeed, about the only shot that even comes close to heartwarming involves two characters in naked embrace in the dingy, ugly confines of a large shower room. Yet in spite of the apparent sweetness of the image this portrait is actually the final word of sadness and imminent doom- a hopeless situation that will never resolve.
Yet for all this "Speed" contains just enough false hope that the the film never turns into a depressing slog. Or maybe I just felt that way because the regularity of the bodily excretions was such that I always ended up thinking to myself hey, there may be no possible future for any of these people, but at least sometimes, they're not throwing up. That's what friends are for after all. They help you feel less bad about throwing up. It's not like you're supposed to, like, like them or anything.
"Speed" isn't really a bad movie, but it's subject matter is so weirdly specific that I'm at a bit of a loss as to who the target audience is supposed to be. Maybe it doesn't have a target audience- director Lee Sang-woo-IV makes these kinds of movies more for the international festival circuit than he does for domestic distribution, and time and again he is somehow able to procure funds to make new ones on a pretty regular basis. Well, in any event I never really hated "Speed". That's about the best I can do.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Speed""
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