Director: Yang Jung-woon
Cast: Chanyeol, Jo Dal-Hwan
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 1 April 2021
Synopsis: A drama about a young man aspiring to become a singer and a washed-up former hit producer. The two men head off on a road trip filled with music and jamming sessions.
With some members beginning their enlistment, SM Entertainment has officially announced that EXO’s future will be moving towards more solo projects. It is a timely balm then for fans of the 9-member boy band, that The Box stars one of the two prominent rappers in the group - Chanyeol.
While the band was known for their talent and vocals, Chanyeol was often remembered for his bassy rapping and flair at the drums. In The Box, he portrays a reclusive guy by the name of Jihoon, a gifted musician adept in all forms of instruments and music genres. He is discovered by a retired music producer, Minsu, but there’s a catch - the lad can’t seem to perform in public.
The Box taps into the almost-musical genre, not unlike titles like Pitch Perfect, where the biggest plug is a buffet of popular tunes re-rendered for catchiness. It’s taken down a notch here, but there’s no mistaking why the selection is a motley of infectious songs.
One moment, Jihoon is reinterpreting Will Ferrel’s “Happy” and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”, the next he goes Armstrong on us with “What a Wonderful World”. The only thing is, it’s just a little too random.
Director Yang Jung-woon must have selected the soundtrack to capture a wider audience demographic while presenting Jihoon’s extraordinary range, because it went far too wide without a core and made the character feel empty. So while Jihoon can dice up a classic as much as throw some grit on a pop number, we never get to know what kind of a musician he is. Funnily, this is reflected in one scene where Minsu ranted that he wasn’t supposed to be a glorified karaoke machine.
Maybe Yang felt that the addition of a backstory reveal might lend dimension to our musician, but the trauma in itself is a simplistic trope that doesn’t really line up. How does the domestic abuse manifest in his quirk?
Perhaps because of this, Jihoon’s progression from hermetic musician to emancipated artist feels unconvincing. Of the many stunts that Minsu pulls upon him to open him up, it’s only the one where he performs trot spontaneously in a competition to locals that feel like a natural progression.
In fact, the relationship between Minsu and Jihoon feels awkward. We’re never really certain what drove Jihoon to believe Minsu, even when he clearly sees the producer is running from debt. And there’s nothing from Jihoon that’s really compelling enough for Minsu to give up the last of his money for the singer. I’ll probably get lots of hate from fans on this but Chanyeol’s good but not THAT good.
Because of this, The Box never really takes off on its promise to stir hearts with an emotional breakthrough from either of the leads. Even as the duo burns the box in a symbolic release, I realised I didn’t feel anything from the supposed cathartic act.
The Box will no doubt still get good mileage from having Chanyeol as the lead, but if it’s a story of deliverance you’re looking for, you might want to give this a pass.
(Infectious covers and idol power aside, this box opens up mostly to a disappointing nothing)
Review by Morgan Awyong