“Jazzy Misfits” (초미의 관심사) – 2019 Busan Film Review


In South Korean cinema, there’s no such thing as a genre film that stays within a sole genre. Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, “Parasite,” starts off as a black comedy and gradually descends into a social-commentary-meets-horror-film. “Exit,” another box office smash from this summer, is a disaster comedy in which the slim-to-none chances of employment for young Korean adults threatens to envelop the main characters’ lives as much as the toxic gas that is spreading throughout the city. The Korean American actor Daniel Henney – who now primarily works in the States – also spoke from personal experience when attesting to this style. Of his 2013 film “The Spy: Undercover Operation,” the Criminal Minds actor told Meniscus Magazine, “It’s an action/comedy/thriller which is indicative of Korea…you can never put one film in a specific genre because they’re all so weird.”

But viewers of genre-twisting Korean film will be pleasantly surprised by “Jazzy Misfits” (초미의 관심사), which breaks new ground in terms of casting, plot and setting. “Mom,” played by Cho Min-soo – best known for her award-winning turn in Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta” – has taken a very expensive taxi ride into Seoul, in search of her two daughters: Sun-deok and Yuri. Mom is successful at finding Sun-deok (Kim Eun-young, better known as the rapper Cheetah), a jazz singer living in the Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon, but neither knows has happened to the younger daughter/sister Yuri – except for the fact that a load of their cash is suddenly missing.

So begins a wild search through a sliver of Seoul not typically featured on the Korean widescreen, featuring the winding alleys and steep hills of the capital’s most culturally diverse area. It becomes immediately clear that mother and daughter have been estranged for quite some time, so trying to find Yuri also means trying to find out what makes the other tick – without ticking each other off in the process. Along the way, they run into a number of old friends and new acquaintances who end up playing very memorable supporting roles. There’s Chun-bae, the head of the local police station for whom Mom developed a thing for a long, long, long time ago, as shown in a hilarious slo-mo character introduction. JB the Navigator (Terris Brown) identifies as a Korean who just wants to make an honest living as a deliveryman, but is mistaken as an English speaker because he happens to be black. Sarang is the kind-hearted transgender bar owner who is a longtime friend of Mom. Those are just three of many characters who play a part in Mom’s and Sun-deok’s exhausting 24-hour search for Yuri, and by the film’s conclusion, they realize that they all have more in common than they previously thought.

Cho oozes fabulosity as Mom, refusing to let age stop the diva in her, instinctively lashing out when things don’t go her way yet showing that she does have a bit of compassion beneath her aggressive chain-smoking exterior. Cheetah impresses in her very first acting role as the wry but no less feisty Sun-deok, and gets to show off her singing and rapping chops throughout the film’s enormously catchy soundtrack. The syncopated dialogue weaves as easily throughout the film as the complementary music does; at the same time it neither judges nor stereotypes when tackling issues of race, identity and sexuality. “Jazzy Misfits” had no scheduled theatrical release date as of its Oct. 8 screening at the Busan International Film Festival, nor were there any immediate plans to release the soundtrack in full. Here’s hoping that both situations will be rectified – this is a film that deserves to be widely seen and heard.

“Jazzy Misfits” made its world premiere at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival.

Video: 초미의 관심사 (JAZZY MISFITS) Q&A: 조민수 (Cho Min-soo), 치타 (Cheetah), director 남연우 (Nam Yeon-woo) – 2019 Busan International Film Festival (in Korean)
(link: excerpts of Q&A translated into English)
video by Wade-Hahn Chan / Meniscus Magazine