Korean Vampire Comedy
I have been making attempts to while away the hours as we click down to the next stage of the economic crisis that we are locked into. This has partly been effected by my girlfriend monopolising my time or computers too, and partly by my disillusion with politics at the moment, which I am sure will ease. Summer has broken out here. A smile is called for.
So, you won't be surprised to hear that I have been seeking out comedies, when not working; there is, after all, only so much Farmville a man can play. I was introduced to a gem at the weekend--the Korean 'Hello Franceska', which I urge you to see if you get the chance.
Korea is, of course, Korea, but it is also a sort of Asian Hibernia--a relatively cold place marked by sectarianism in which the catholic establishment are the liberals and the doctrinaire nutters come in sundry forms. The humour is a mix of Addams family, Father Ted and Chewin' the Fat, as far as I can tell.
The conceit is simple. A group of vampires listen to the advice of one of their number--an idiot who got that way by drinking chicken blood, and who only wants to be loved--and stow away on a container heading for Inchon, which they think is in Japan. They land in Korea. No one remarks on how Korean a group of Romanians seem. They have no powers beyond indefatigability and a kind of keen determination to do just about anything to survive. Their leader looks as though she is about fourteen, and an awkward, quirky fourteen at that. They don't drink blood, they occasionally hit people, and they want to live a normal life whilst dressing in black (though they can go out in sunlight). Their one victim is a rotund and endearing loser called Du-Il (which translates as something like Dave), whom they bite accidentally, and they live beneath a former Madam whose house they move into because the Spanish embassy is closed and who falls in love with Chicken-brain. He reads out flattering lines to her that he has read on advertisements or seen on daytime soap operas, with which his neighbour is obsessed.
Du-Il Dave on his own turns in a sort of sub-Oliver Hardy performance that easily outclasses anything John Candy (who was playing Fatty Arbuckle most of his career anyway) ever managed. James Gandolfini is the only western actor whom I can compare to his heavy, beaten, look, but Du-Il is desperately normal, which I suppose Gandolfini never really is in his parts--there's always a kind of threat behind the smile there. That's why Michael Chiklis went wrong in his sit-com too.
The plotting is superb. One follows the vampires through insurance scams, a restaurant business in a tent, several episodes of homelessness, and the temporary adoption of a baby. You end up loving them for their breezy innocence, and the powerful nature of the humour they lead you to gently. It's like being hit by a wall of air.
There were two other points. One was how superbly visual the comedy was, with one scene in the back of a van in which the family are attempting to get to sleep extending just beautifully. The other was how logically the story flowed. Logic, of course, is no more the same as rationality than ethics is morality. One scene was illustrative; the Vampires hear that Dave has been run over by a truck, and that their pizzas are late. The latter bothers them more, if only because, having been bitten, Du-Il is a vampire and cannot die, even if he hurts a bit. One can't argue with that sort of utterly closed learning.
All great comedy is to be found in the simple things. That peculiar mix of intense Korean passion and cool indulgence in the silliness of life (one of the Vampires develops a gambling habit whilst being as rubbish at betting as everything else, and haunts old lady gambling circles) is deeply attractive. Most of all though, it's the cast and writers' very Korean willingness to shout a bit, do something evil, then just sigh and get on with life that I love.
It's nice, to be distracted.