My Boss, My Hero (두사부일체, Yun Je-gyun: 2001)

Gye Duo-shik is a young gangster who is rising quickly through the ranks of his ‘gang’ and is expecting to be handed the Myeongdong district to run. When Duo-shik shows his ignorance in a meeting – mistaking the name of a famous poet for a type of liquor – it causes some concern among his superiors who decide that before he will be given charge of the district he needs to become more educated. Therefore it is agreed that Duo-shik will return to school to earn his diploma. Posing as a 19 year old, the twenty-something gangster bites his lip and prepares to buckle down to some studying – but finds that high school is a much tougher prospect than he expected…

So the Korean gangster flick turns its gaze towards the high-school comedy. It’s unsurprising really given the popularity of gangster comedies in general, and the back-to-school film has always been a popular  with the likes of Stephen Chows cleverly titled Back To School series and Rodney Dangerfields film of the same name, as well as the likes of Adam Sandlers Billy Madison. Hell, we’ll even throw in Schwarzeneggers Kindergarten Cop for good measure. It’s proved to be a winning formula – My Boss, My Hero proved such a hit on its release that it spawned two sequels and a Japanese television series.

Taking a wild plot (no-one is going to criticise a poor excuse to stick a gangster back into the classroom), some stock but nicely used ‘gangster’ types and throw in some comedy and romance and you would expect My Boss, My Hero to be another exercise in rolling out yet another flat rom com. The thing is, My Boss, My Hero has a great cast, some great jokes, likeable enough characters so that you actually care (a bit) about the relationships – and a whole lot of slapping. To say that My Boss, My Hero puts the slap into slapstick would not only be a corny (lazy?) review line, but would also be an understatement. Pretty much everyone here gets a slap at some point – and many of the characters get what feels like dozens of open hands. And here’s the reason for bringing it up – My Boss, My Hero is well put together and well performed, but a lot of the humour can boil down to whether or not you find it funny to see someone get slapped. Again. And again.

The cast of My Boss, My Hero is sturdy throughout. Jeong Jun-ho is excellent as Duo-shik, managing to flit between the two personas – high-school and gangster – with a sense of fun and keeps it light throughout. It’s largely down to Jeong Jun-ho that we buy the central premise of the film. Then there’s Jeong Woong-in who provides sturdy support as Duo-shik’s friend and right hand man – and produces the most disturbing karaoke performance I’ve ever seen, and Jeong Un-taek who turns in a funny performance in what is often the most unfunny role in these types of films – the ‘hilarious’ gangster sidekick. Each of these three manage to hold their own, but also work very well together, keeping My Boss, My Hero together as a whole.

The biggest strength of My Boss, My Hero is in finding just the right tone so that it manages to fire off enough cheap gags so that you barely have time to stop and think too much. Along with the obligatory romantic sub-plots, it succeeds in its likeable mix of daft plotting and hammy performances balanced with some (very) light characterisation that won’t make you invest much in the film, but will keep you interested enough to see how it all pans out for everyone.

Having said this, My Boss, My Hero is not a film for anyone who dislikes holes in their filmic logic. Where plotting has become the death knell of many a frustrating comedy, My Boss, My Hero makes little attempt to paper over the gaps in common sense – for example: why exactly would a gangster let high-school students hit him continously? The answer: it’s funny. The plot leaps all over the place and largely ignores anything that gets in the way of a good gag. Interestingly though it’s a formula that works – with only a few exceptions during dramatic sub-plots that threaten to derail the whole thing, for example the irony seems missed during a ‘dramatic’ sub-plot regarding a student who becomes a hostess, and other nods towards melodrama seem weak. Other than these few missteps My Boss, My Hero plows on – even putting together a big finale where everything comes to a head and the two worlds that Duo-shik is living in come together in a violent clash. Thankfully this also manages to stay fun (gang members ‘tagging’ each other so that they can avoid a fight), while working very well as a ‘showdown’ and tying everything up nicely.

두사부일체 (My Boss, My Hero)
Directed by Yun Je-gyun
Produced by Kim Du-chan, Lee Hyo-seung, Jo Yun-ho
Written by Yun Je-gyun
Starring Jeong Jun-ho, Jeong Woong, Jeong Un-taek, Oh Seung-eun, Song Seon-mi

My Boss, My Hero Image © Zenith Entertainment