The promo photos and plot description make “Seoul Vibe” out to be a Korean “Fast and Furious” film. At the very least, we have a right to expect lots of action and wild car stunts performed by characters played by a good-looking young cast.
But call it a letdown, a not-quite-there-yet thriller or a 65 minute movie asleep in a 140 minute time-suck, any one of which give away that I think “It’s a bust.” The plot is dull, the pacing uneven and the get-aways, while decent, are mostly saved for the third act. So, wake me when you get to that, right?
A hot young driver, Dong-Wook (Yoo Ah-in) and his partner-in-car parts Joon-gi (Seong-wu Ong) are freshly home from arms-running in Saudi Arabia.”The best driver in the world” has dreams of Daytona and his hype-man pal dreams of going with him.
But no sooner have they landed at Gimpo Airport when they’re spotted by Men in Suits. They barely have time to reunite with their crew (Lee Kyoo-hyung, Park Ju-hyun, Go Kyung-Pyo) before Prosecutor Ahn (Oh Jung-se) shows up ready to arrest the lot of them.
“Priors,” you see.
It’s 1988, and Seoul is bracing for the Olympics. The country’s politics are the usual pre-or-post-attempted-coup mess, and Ahn wants them to get the goods on the corrupt goons keeping a disgraced leader well-financed. Madame Kang (Moon So-ri) and the amusingly “Dukes of Hazard” ranked General Lee (Kim Seong-gyoon) are into something that’s yielding lots of Yankee greenbacks. There’s this “ledger” that the prosecutor wants.
Go undercover, become drivers for their smuggling operation, get that ledger, and he’ll clear everybody’s record and hook up those with American racing dreams with visas.
That’ll entail passing a hairy (not really) cross-town driving test dreamed up by the villains, and keeping their motives secret from people who won’t hesitate to kill them if get wind of their plot.
Hyundais and other local rolling stock must be modified, all cars from that boxy era that produced the Nissan Skyline in Japan and K-Cars and Cavaliers and the ugliest Ford Mustangs in history in the U.S.
The drivers, Dong-wook’s biker-babe little sister (Park Ju-hyun) and others with dreams of being “spies” take on a mission wondering if Prosecutor Ahn will be there for them when the chips are down.
The profanity-peppered dialogue isn’t much, either in Korean with subtitles or dubbed into English.
“You think this is a movie? Cars don’t blow up that easily!”
Novel ways of getting cars on two wheels, physics-defying sequences in chases and dopey bits of out-smarting the armed and dangerous bad guys — who of course take a hostage — will figure into the action, which as I say, is weighted heavily towards the third act.
Which is entirely too late to justify the sleep inducing vibe this picture manages up to that point.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, torture, profanity
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Lee Kyoo-hyung, Park Ju-hyun, Go Kyung-Pyo, Seong-wu Ong, Oh Jung-se, Kim Seong-gyoon and Moon So-ri
Credits: Directed by Hyeon-seong Moon, scripted by Sua Shin. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:20