The immediate sparkle "Top Star" brings to the surface is just how glamorous everything looks. The life of a screen star is a shiny, fabulous, fun place to be. Just in terms of sheer attractiveness the actors in this movie look great, in perfectly made-up form, and for once the narrative actually justifies why we get to look at so many beautiful people. This is the film industry, where appearances are everything. Even Mina (played by So Yi-hyun) looks fabulous, and her job is to work behind the scenes.
But underneath this beautiful appearance lies...well, nothing all that serious actually. Anybody who wants to see a takedown on the more grotesque warped aspects of screen acting, "Rough Play" is your film. "Top Star" takes the very different approach of using the screen industry as the instrument which defines the friendship of established actor Won-Joon (played by Kim Min-joon) and ambitious amateur Tae-Sik (played by Uhm Tae-woong).
An obvious comparison rises between the two. Won-Joon is not a good person, and seems to value Tae-Sik mostly because the latter is so subservient and eager to please. All of this is true- and yet strangely, these facts don't define or disparage the friendship as much as the audience might expect. However, as the film goes on, Won-Joon and Tae-Sik themselves become more aware of this clear power imbalance, particularly as Tae-Sik's career improves to a position comparable to that of his idol.
The conflict that wages from this point is less about the debasing nature of the acting as it is about how friendships - normal, real friendships between everyday people - can end up disintegrating when changing events threaten the apparent foundation. The stakes in "Top Star" are extremely high, largely because in the world of screen acting, it's possible to ruin careers at a much deeper long-lasting level than is capable for a normal human being. The choices the lead characters make are questionable but understandable- vengeance doesn't wait for the tool than enacts the least permanent damage.
And this is where the beauty of Choi Seok-hwan's screenplay shines- it's when we see that the apparently permanent rift that is torn between Won-Joon and Tae-Sik may not be so permanent after all. There's a genuine hope and optimism here that's surprising. While these men had every possible reason to bear an eternal grudge, "Top Star" makes the statement that appearances and enmnity alone don't prove that a friendship was always worthless and meaningless. How we choose to view past and context is important- and even though this film has multiple downfalls that are both tragic and probably well-deserved, none of this means that the story of Won-joon and Tae-Sik requires a villain.
Director Park Joong-hoon is to be given credit for "Top Star"'s deliberate focus- it's all too easy for film professionals to get overly self-indulgent and pretentious regarding the industry that makes up their livelihood. But the story of Won-Joon and Tae-Sik goes beyond their lives as screen actors, and instead exposes them as genuine human beings. This movie may not make any particularly strong artistic statement, but its down-to-earth use of the plot device of entertainment industry spectacle is a touching one that's well worth watching.
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] "Top Star""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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