Flying Boys (발레 교습소, Byeong Yeong-joo: 2004)
Min-jae is in his final year of high school and is faced with has the two biggest problems of being a teenager: he needs to decide what he would like to do with his future, and he has a crush on Soo-jin – a teenage girl who lives in the same building. Min-jae and his friends finish their exams a decide to celebrate by getting drunk and ‘borrowing’ Min-jae’s fathers car. When Min-jae is caught by the local ballet teacher – driving intoxicated and without a license – he finds himself and his friends being blackmailed into attending her dance classes. On arrival at the dance studios, Min-jae isn’t pleased to find that Soo-jin will also be taking the class – although he soon realises that it might give him a chance to get to know her…
Coming of age dramas are often so middle of the road they could actually have road markings painted straight through the middle of them: lessons will be learnt, fears will be faced, relationships will be made and tested, and the road to adulthood will form in front of our very eyes. There are some coming-of-age films that prove an exception to these rules. Flying Boys is not one of them.
Swiftly setting out it’s central narrative threads in the opening fifteen minutes, Flying Boys goes exactly the way you would expect it to. There’s no messing around with audience expectations, no clever narrative structure, no concluding twists. In this sense, Flying Boys offers absolutely nothing new. Nothing we haven’t seen before. Nada. What Flying Boys does offer though is some very likeable performances, a no-nonsense directorial style, some good laughs and a comfortably rewarding (although very obvious) conclusion
Filling in Flying Boys‘ standard role-types is not a bad little cast. Headed up by Korean pop-star Yoon Kye-sang (making his film debut as Min-jae) they all do a decent job. Managing to make his initially thin character believable, Kye-sang struggles with a few moments of serious drama in the last section of the film but he also manages to get away with this through sheer likeableness. The same applies to the stoney-faced but equally very likeable Kim Min-jung as Soo-jin – although she gets a little less screen-time, which is a shame. Still, their troubled relationship works well on-screen with just the right mix of awkwardness and attraction. The rest of the cast are equally good, with almost a standout performance from the ballet teacher – I say ‘almost’ because the little screen-time she has isn’t quite enough to steal the film from its younger cast.
Although the synopsis of Flying Boys might make it sound like it centres itself on the dance classes the characters attend (the original Korean title actually translates as ‘Ballet Studio’, goodness knows how they came up with the bizarre English title it that it has actually been lumbered with), this is no High School Musical (Kenny Ortega / 2006). The ballet lessons bring the narrative threads into line with each other at specific points, but not too much time is spent watching the group learning in classes. Luckily there’s no ‘learning life skills and who you are through dance’ moments, the drama plays itself out (for the most part) outside of the studio.
Flying Boys‘ group of characters are explored with different degrees of success – mainly due to screen-time and director Byeong Yeong-joo’s careful reining in of anything that’s not directly related to the teen-angst / family-problem themes at the centre of the piece. While this means that a few interesting characters – such as the gay video-shop owner – get a little sidelined, it also means that as obvious as the main characters are, time is spent on them – they are still written and acted with care and don’t rely on pigeon-holing to tell the story. The whole thing does feel a little over-long given its two-hour running time – the first hour works well enough, but the steady-paced roll through to the end means that the second hour feels too slow – especially as the drama draws towards the conclusion. A shorter running time would make Flying Boys a more welcome prospect, but then it does – to its credit – try to make the most of its well-worn story.
Flying Boys is in many ways very, very average. What stands in its favour – and raises it just above the stifle-a-yawn-average-status it seems to promise – is the quality of the filmmaking. It offers no surprises, but it’s a feelgood film that’s well told, well written and well acted. Sometimes that’s a good enough way to spend a couple of hours of viewing time.
발레 교습소 (Flying Boys)
Directed by Byeong Yeong-joo
Produced by Kim Mi-hee
Written by Byeong Yeong-joo
Starring Yoon Kye-sang, Kim Min-jung, Do Ji-won, On Joo-wan, Lee Joon-gi
Flying Boys Image © Korean Film Co Ltd