Oh, to be that age when everyone thinks that you get away with murder, even when you didnâ€™t do anything.
Free on Hulu. Approximately 100 minutes.
Jung-hoonâ€™s day is off to a bad start. His mother comes to get him for breakfast only to find him hiding under his desk. When he finally comes to breakfast, his father gets on his case once again for going to a bad university and studying some frivolous humanities degree. His sister, who is in a good school and studying something more acceptable, mocks him as well. He tries to find solace with his girlfriend when he finds her on the bus, only for her to tell him that she is going out with a medical student. She didnâ€™t even have the curtesy of dumping him. It is only when Jung-hoon gets to his job at an internet cafÃ© that things seem to be looking up. His boss is nice to him as always, and maybe even nicer now that co-worker Young-ae is quitting to pursue her acting career. Even better, Young-ae asks him out on a date.
Min-seoâ€™s day isâ€¦not so great either. He has failed the college entrance exam and has to cram for next year. I guess that having rich and powerful parents cannot solve anything. He has pretty much had it with studying, vigorously tearing up his papers and walking out to go to an internet cafÃ©. Min-seoâ€™s reason for being there is a little shady. He has been following Young-ae around, secretly taking pictures of her, and does so again here.
Eun-youngâ€™s day started out okay, but quickly went downhill. She visited her mother in the hospital and they had a nice little chit chat. And then her boss at the hair salon calls her to yell at her for not being at work. Eun-young protests that her mother is extremely sick, but her boss is not sympathetic. Eun-young talks back in a moment of anger and is promptly fired. Given that she is poor and and dropped out of college to provide for the family, she cannot lose her job. In that moment of desperation, she gets a call from Young-aeâ€¦again. Asking for money. Which Eun-young does not have. Eun-young decides to confront her former college classmate at the internet cafÃ© and tell Young-ae to stop bother her.
That night, Jung-hoon and Young-ae go to a dance club, where she asks himâ€¦multiple timesâ€¦to protect her. They dance; they kiss. They go to the riverbank and just hang out, until Young-ae has to go. For a day that seemed pretty bad, things seem to have ended well for Jung-hoon.
The next morning, Young-ae is found dead in the river.Â Details are sketchyÂ witness saw someone push her into the water.
Jung-hoon, Min-seo, and Eun-young, are taken to the police station for separate interrogations. The cops separately accuse each of the kids of the murder, even though none of them know each other. Jung-hoon tries to lie about going out with Young-ae, but the cops see through that and start painting him as a spoiled playboy, wasting the money that his parents have spent for his education on womanizing. They call Min-seo a pathetic mamaâ€™s boy and a perverted stalker. They poke at Eun-youngâ€™s already frantic state by saying that she is using her financial situation and her motherâ€™s illnesses as excuses to commit murder. At pretty much the same time, all three kids snap, attack their interrogators, and run out of the station. Somehow, they end up together and they start running off together, eventually losing the cops.
As the initial thrill of shared escape fades, the three look warily at each other. They do not know each other, and one of them may actually be the murderer. Eventually, though, they agree to trust each other and stick together as they continue to run from the police.
19-Nineteen was actually part of a project where South Korean TV directors teamed up with Japanese TV screenwriters to make seven TV movies that got limited theatrical releases. Perhaps there is a vague Japanese leaning of the story, given some of the voiceovers about that ambiguous stage of life between childhood and adulthood. That said, Koreans have had stories about that as well. In this case, though, this transitional stage is shown not through the prism of melancholy nostalgia, but with existential angst and constant frustration. They get all of the responsibilities of adulthood, but little of the respect. Additionally, one of the cops seems to be chasing them purely out of hatred for a completely different group of teenagers who had killed his wife.
The mystery of what happened to Young-ae is not really the focus of the movie. The mystery does get solvedâ€¦somewhat surprisingly early, actually. The final reveal kind of disappointed me the first time I saw it, but I came around to it upon second viewing. Really, though, her death is just the catalyst to bring these three other nineteen-year-olds together and discuss the oppressivess of impending adulthood. The movie does not go all that deep or specific with the characters, but the viewer gets a sense about them and their place in society. None of the main characters have dreams, ambitions, or hope for a better future. Jung-hoon seems destined for just general malaise, Min-seo will probably become an automaton with the occasional outburst of insanity, and Eun-young is too desperate to keep things together to think about anything beyond what is in front of her. Through their time together on the run, they start to discover things about who they are and what they can do.
I did not realize it when I first decided to watch this movie, but the two main male stars in this movie are members of the boy band group Big Bang. Basically, imagine if two members of One Direction starred in a drama. Well, actually, I would not be surprised if two of them did and I just did not know about it. Anyways, I did not view this as really a vanity project or anything like thatâ€¦even if it may have been. There are a few concessions to their boy band status. The movie starts out with a minute-long rap song by Jung-hoon, who is sometimes shown casually rapping to himself as a hobby. In the middle of the movie, the trio come across a rap battle performance and Eun-young pressures Jung-hoon into participating. And thenâ€¦around two thirds of the way through, Min-seo is revealed to compose songs and sings for a bit. All of that stuff could have been cut out, but I did not necessarily mind their inclusion. If anything, their musicality, along with Eun-youngâ€™s drawing, shows that they have an aptitude for something, even if that something is not what they are making a living doing. And, donâ€™t worry; no one gets a record deal or an art gallery at the end. The movie is can occasionally veer off into silliness, but does not become insultingly fantastical. This is not a movie about pursuing your dreams, but of making your way through a world that might not treat you as well as you deserve to be treated. And maybe of discovering the dreams that you did not realize were even pursuable.
If you want a nice little mix of light and angsty, this movie might be for you. And be happy for the lightness, as the Korean movies featured on WTF ASIA get progressively bleaker until maybe August.
WTF ASIA 90: Pratidwandi (India: 1979, approx. 105 minutes)
WTF ASIA 91: A Detective Story (Japan: 1983, approx. 110 minutes)