Sometimes we feel that Korean movies do not get the credit they deserve due to being heavily overshadowed by Korean dramas. “Seoul Vibe” is a movie set in 1988, where a group of people help a public prosecutor investigate a money laundering racket. But when things go wrong, doing the right thing becomes a selfish decision, and justice gets personal.
When it comes to the writing itself, it is slick and smart, but we question whether all the parts of the runtime of almost 140 minutes were required. “Seoul Vibe” begins with the group’s recruitment for the mission and traces their successes, failures, and redemptions. It is probably not the runtime as much as it is our decreased attention span due to every other show or movie just being around 100-120 minutes long.
The best parts about “Seoul Vibe” are the actors themselves, and their effortlessly stylish execution of their respective characters. We fell a little in love with Oh Jung Se, who portrays Ahn Pyeong Wook, when he is laying out the law for the group. It did not look like an actor playing a part, but like a man who knows what he is doing when he is cornering someone to get what he wants. And Yoo Ah In as Dong Wook brought such a degree of believability to his character, with his blind courage that was balanced by a shrewd calculative nature. Every time he negotiated with one of the characters for a better payout, we were able to immediately see his point and the bold common sense of his move. This is a mixture of clever writing and a strong performance. Yoo Ah In is known for taking up roles that challenge the mettle of his craft, and he hasn’t disappointed us so far.
We also noticed something when it came to the character of Joon Gi, played by Ong Seong Wu. This is strictly by way of comparison and is not a criticism. Joon Gi had a certain naivete about him. We couldn’t help but wonder that if “Seoul Vibe” was made with western actors, Joon Gi would have been less child-like even if he retained his wide-eyed quality. The character was portrayed as someone young, but we don’t believe he was innocent, considering the people he hung out with. It seems to be a Korean content trope to marry inexperience with innocence, or it could just be the actor’s perception of it. We are in two minds about this aspect of the character.
When it comes to the women of the movie, while Yoon Hee, played by Park Ju Hyun, was borderline generic, we loved the portrayal of Chairwoman Kang, played by Moon So Ri. Her cold reception of potentially devastating news, her quick and insightful reading of a person, and her anger at the loss of control over a situation convinced us that she was an apt villain for the narrative. And though she is the bad guy here, her reaction to a pompous man questioning her authority due to her being a woman was pettily cathartic for us. We wish we saw a scene like that in Indian cinema soon.
As for the comedy in the movie, it was not based on jokes as much as on the characters’ reactions to situations. For example, it was funny how Dong Wook was trying to evade the bad guys, but he was more worried about his mint-condition Air Jordans being worn. And when Bok Nam kept singing a song, knowing that he was in mortal danger, we chuckled out loud. The comedy elements in “Seoul Vibe” had their subtlety on point. As for the music, it really served well to maintain the perfect balance between the emotions of the characters and the situation at hand. Visually, it was beautiful. One doesn’t need to be from Korea to tell that the makers have paid attention to the details of the setting. It is important to remember that the events of this movie took place in 1988, but it is being presented to an audience in 2022. Incorporating the details for their own sake is well and good, but we applaud the makers for capturing and highlighting the ones that the present-day audience would connect with.
What happens with “Seoul Vibe” is that it starts with a fast pace and then slows down as the story builds, only to pick up speed towards the ending again. It is very much in line with the progression of the story, and we get an adrenaline rush at just the right moments. We cannot say that the concept was entirely original, but the material at hand was taken seriously, which resulted in a product that was both engaging and entertaining. “Seoul Vibe” is a movie worth recommending to your friends. And we can bet that every re-watch would uncover hidden Easter eggs. In fact, we anticipate a sequel, not because there are questions left to be answered but because of the sheer talent behind the screen that gave an amazing execution to what was a “done before” storyline. This might be just the film that gets people talking about Korean movies the way they talk about Korean dramas. And that is a discussion we eagerly look forward to.