Monday, July 01, 2024

Handsome Guys

I've been making my reservations to go to Montreal for the Fantasia International Film Festival, and they've been rolling out their lineup, so the festival was on my mind as I bought my ticket for Handsome Guys and went to see it on Saturday, and even more so as the two other purple in the audience and I had a pretty good time, with more laughter from us than I've heard from bigger crowds watching acknowledged classics lately. This, I thought, would probably be a huge hit at Fantasia, even if it was the "2130 show in DeSève generates enough word of mouth to sell out another matinee a few days later" variety. I'd certainly have loved being in a room with a couple hundred people laughing rather than the three of us who somehow became aware of a movie with no trailer that I don't think even showed up on the AMC and Fandango apps until sometime Thursday.

And I think that's what would have happened, five years ago: Instead of opening in American theaters two days after opening in South Korea, it would have played a few genre festivals, folks like me (most with much more of an audience) would have written reviews and gone on social media, and there would have been people waiting when it got theaters and home video. Now it's going to be a pretty brief blip in theaters, quite possible gone Tuesday because it was basically filling a screen meant for Despicable Me 4 for a few days. Maybe Well Go or Bayview pots it out on disc, maybe not.

And, sure, maybe these are more showtime than it would have had five or ten years ago! But I can't help but feel that for something like this - a goofy little movie from a first-time director - the current very fast home-market to worldwide to streaming pipeline doesn't really give movies many chances to succeed. It ain't great for the festivals and sites where people write about movies, either.

Random-ish thoughts on the previews before the movie:
  • it didn't take until seeing it this time for it to hit me (although I'm kind of embarrassed I didn't see it right away), but the Borderlands movie is really looking for the Guardians of the Galaxy audience, isn't it? I'm sure there have been other "irreverent space adventure" movies in the past ten years, but this one's really going for it, with the classic rock trailer, just enough gore and casual violence to make you go "ewww!" without it really feeling dark, and even a guy whose background is mostly weird horror (Eli Roth) in charge. Someone really wants to recreate the GOTG magic!
  • It's weird that you never see Nicolas Cage in the trailer for Longlegs. I mean, I love Maika Monroe as much as anybody, but I don't know that she's a draw outside of the indie-horror-knowers, especially as the lead in a dour serial-killer movie.
  • I am so ready to not see the trailer for Maxxxine any more, although it's kind of funny how the red-band one comes of as obnoxiously crass but the lack of f-bombs in the green-band version just throws the whole rhythm of it off.
  • Wait, are we really getting both Hijack 1971, in which a South Korean tries to divert a plane to the North, and Escape, in which North Koreans try to escape to the South, on the same day? I don't know how much demand for Korean cinema the typical city has, but probably not "two action movies about defecting" much. It seems like Sony and Well Go should have checked to make sure this didn't happen!

Haenseomgaijeu (Handsome Guys)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #9 (first-run, laser DCP)

Handsome Guys is close enough in its setup to Tucker and Dale va. Evil - two threatening-looking bumpkins try to help an unconscious girl but are mistaken for killers by her friends, who off themselves trying to rescue her - that I'm tempted to call it an uncredited remake, but it goes bigger and goofier early and often enough to be its own thing. It is, at the very least, good enough in an empty theater that I wonder how it would play with a crowd.

The two "Handsome Guys" are Jae-pil (Lee Sung-min), gruff and weathered, and Sang-gu (Lee Hee-joon), friendly but weird-looking, who are going to the countryside to look at a house formerly owned by an American missionary that they can buy and fix-up. Not far away, pro golfer Lee Jung-bin (Jang Dong-joo) is traveling to his vacation home with friends Byung-jo (Kang Ki-doong), Yong-jun (Bin-Chan-uk), and Jason (Kim Dong-hoon); Jason's girlfriend Mina (Gong Seung-yeon), and Mina's friend Bora (Park Jeong-hwa), who has a crush on Jung-bin. When Bora hears that she was brought along as a prank, she runs off, knocking herself out when startled by Jae-pil & Sang-gu. The others go looking for her, or at least the cell phone whose contents could wreck Jung-bin's career in her pocket, but get the wrong idea even before it becomes clear that the black goat their car hit earlier and that Jae-pil & Sang-gu buried has placed in motion the events of a dark prophecy.

It's all very silly, and the trick first-time director Nam Dong-hyub and his cast is making the group of Sang-gu, Jae-pil, and Bora cheery enough to hang out with that the meaner and more horror-oriented elements feel more like spice pulling the rest of the movie back from being too sugary rather than the actual real story that has a plot. Lee Hee-joon, especially, gives a sunny performance as sweet but self-doubting himbo Sang-gu, always finding a way to position his large frame so that the audience can see him as a big teddy bear while implying that someone else might see him as a hulking, dangerous redneck. Lee Sung-min is a fun complement as his far less cheerful "brother from another mother" - director Nam kind of rides the line between queer-baiting and apparent frustration on Jae-pil's part that they're not more than best friends - and Park Jeong-hwa gives Bora enough depth to go from smitten to hurt to happy that these weirdos seem to actually like her. The rest of the cast, by and large, finds the right lane between their characters being huge turds one doesn't mind being killed in gruesome fashion and also funny as they misinterpret Sung-gu, Jae-pil, and Bora going about their business.

Nam uses everything from smash-cuts to putters to play all this out, but his go-to move is blithely showing the audience various things around the guys' home improvement project that could be lethal, lingering on them, and then moving on. Eventually, enough of them are bouncing around a viewer's head that they're a surprise when they actually get used (and by how; I kind of expected something else from the paint thinner). It's like he read about Chekhov's gun and said he'd take ten. It keeps the audience keyed up even as a couple other things are thrown in.

He's pretty consciously silly about it all, figuring gross-outs would probably break the fun atmosphere, but with got a good sense of how not to be cavalier about the bodies piling up, which lets him give folks their hero moments without breaking the atmosphere, even if the way they wind up fighting demons is kind of silly. He has fun pushing the inherent silliness of exorcism narratives even further than other Korean films often do, and often smartly - it is utterly logical that an American missionary would have a six-shooter that dispatches demons with silver bullets, for example, but just putting that gun in this group's hands wouldn't entirely make sense.

It's kind of derivative at points - you could describe this as Tucker and Dale vs Evil Dead and capture 80% of what's going on - but it never just feels like lifting, rolling into its own story throughout. It's 100 minutes of entertaining set-ups to bloody punchlines and doesn't often miss.

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