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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Sunset in My Hometown"


Hak-soo (played by Park Jung-min) is an aspiring rapper living in Seoul. He's actually really good, and reliably gets past the initial stage of the popular South Korean rap competition variety show Show Me the Money. The problem is that Hak-soo has a lot of feelings of unresolved rage toward his country bumpkin hometown of Byeonsan in Jeolla province. While this is good material for rap, the lack of emotional closure frustrates Hak-soo's ambitions. Fortunately circumstances contrive to force him back home, however temporarily.

"Sunset in My Hometown" does not utilize the premise as well as it should. The best scenes are the ones overlayed with Hak-soo's rap in the soundtrack, because we can actually see, oh, that's what the song is actually about. Byeon-san's strong local reputation as a rapper, coupled with the sheer length of the opening storyline about his latest tryout, makes the actual overall plot about his going home seem less interesting by comparison.

Ironically this isn't really a romantic pastoralist movie either. "Sunset in My Hometown" actually mostly gives us a lot of fairly justifiable reasons for why Hak-soo hates his hometown in the first place. It's not just that his father (played by Jang Hang-sun) is an aloof local big shot. Hak-soo also has a lot of negative memories about his high school classmates and teachers. Some of them are quite justified. Others...not so much.

I like how "Sunset in My Hometown" is not afraid to call Hak-soo out for being a pretentious jerk whose main issue with Byeonsan is that he thinks he's too good for it. Seon-mi (played by Kim Go-eun) plays a critical role as a former classmate who, like Hak-soo, is creatively inclined. But she figured out how to make a life of that without being ashamed of her roots. Observe how Seon-mi is more than willing to let loose with a stream of thick dialect any time the situation calls for it.

The dialect also relates well to Hak-soo's rapping. Like so many of the other characters in "Sunset in My Hometown" Hak-soo is a straight-talker who doesn't care if people think he's rude as long as he's right. It's just, a lot of the time Hak-soo is wrong, and so are other equally stupid characters, so what happens next? I particularly liked one antagonistic relationship that ends up being resolved in a mud fight way out on the coast, while the other characters have a picnic and cheer for their favorite combatant.

This works to bridge who these characters were as teenagers versus who they've become as adults several years later. In a way they can't really escape that identity, and it's only by embracing that his background made him what he is, that Hak-soo can finally go back to Seoul and put out solid rap performances in a marathon setting with no false starts. Bear in mind that the aforementioned mud fight is the actual climax of the movie though. Once again, Hak-soo's rapping is not as central a presence as I was expecting and hoping.

Review by William Schwartz


"Sunset in My Hometown" is directed by Lee Joon-ik and features Park Jung-min and Kim Go-eun.


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