Director: Kang Hyoung-chul
Cast: Doh Kyung-soo, Park Hye-su, Jared Grimes, Oh Jung-se, Kim Min-ho
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence & Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures and Clover Films
Opening Day: 17 January 2019
Synopsis: During the Korean War in 1951, the newly appointed chief to the largest POW camp in Koje plans to make a dance team of the prisoners to improve the camp’s public image. The ‘Swing Kids’ dance team consists of ‘ROH Ki-soo’ (DOH Kyung-soo), the POW camp’s biggest troublemaker, ‘YANG Pallae’ (PARK Hye-su), an unauthorized interpreter who speaks 4 languages, ‘KANG Byung-sam’ (OH Jung-se), a man who wants to become famous to find his wife, ‘Xiao Fang’ (KIM Min-ho), a malnourished Chinese dancer with surprising moves, and ‘Jackson’ (Jared Grimes), the leader who used to tap dance on Broadway. The dance team, which consists of people of different nationalities, languages, ideologies, backgrounds and skills, faces a dark, uncertain future as their debut stage approaches…
Swing Kids is a South Korean musical drama movie set in the Korean War at Geoje Island of South Korea. It is based on the Korean musical, “Rho Ki-soo”. The story follows three Korean prisoners of war, a Chinese dancer, and the leader of the dance team - Jackson (played by Jared Grimes) - a US soldier who used to tap dance on Broadway.
The film opens with the scenes at prison camp, establishing the pro-communist and the anti-communist camps within the facilities. Jackson was ordered by a senior officer to form a tap dancing team from the POW camp to showcase. He held an audition at the camp, inviting nothing but disaster. He eventually settled and recruited Xiaofang (played by Kim Min-ho), Kang Byung-sam (played by Oh Jung-se) and Yang Pan-Rae (played by Park Hye-su). Although North Korean soldier Rho Ki-Soo (played by Do Kyung-soo, better known as Do of EXO) was highly intrigued by the tap dancing, he struggled to bring himself to accept a dance that is seen to belong to the anti-communist camp. However, he accepted an order to assassinate at the Christmas event, and hence joined the dance team in putting together the performance.
The film is directed by award winning director Kang Hyeong-cheol, who is known for Korean box office hits Scandal Makers (2008) and Tazza: The Hidden Card (2014). The construct of the film could be seen as two parts, first and second half. The first half of the film was dedicated more to introduce the dance team, and focused more on the tap dancing. It also had more humour and laughter, especially during the auditions. The turning point of the movie came when Ki-soo’s brother returned to the camp. His brother is seen the communists’ hero, but there’s more than meets the eye. The second half of the movie had the tension between the two camps escalate, and focused more on unveiling the plots and schemes happening at the same time.
Overall, the narrative of the movie is quite entertaining. However, it felt that the movie was trying to achieve too much within its runtime to cover multiple subplots, weaving too many things into the storyline. Towards the end of the movie, it felt more rushed and brief. Nonetheless, the soundtrack and overall cinematic experience is a positive one. Some credits must be given to the cast as well, especially Do and Jared Grimes for putting up fantastic tap dancing performances.
Beyond the performance, the character development and narrative worked well together to bring out the emotions of the characters. When the movie’s curtain falls, it will make you think of prisoners of war and soldiers not just as matter-of-fact history on textbooks or faceless statistics, but unique individuals who truly lived with real aspirations and stories.
(While the runtime is a little long, it’s worth watching for its swag moves and story!)
Review by Tho Shu Ling