Set in the early 80s, the film follows multiple high school students as they navigate love, gangs, and jealousy. Young-seok (Park Bo-young) is the school’s strongest and most feared girl. Supposedly a secret is her longtime crush on childhood friend and current womanizer Kang Joong-gil (Lee Jong-suk). Joong-gil himself has his sights set on the demure and pretty new transfer student So-hee (Lee Se-young) causing no end of jealousy and misunderstandings from Young-seok. This all gets misconstrued, usually painfully for Joong-gil, by Gwang-sik (Kim Young-kwang); the undisputed leader of a rival school who sees Young-seok as his girl.
On the surface a teenage romantic comedy that just happens to be set in the past, initial trailers and previews hinted at what looked to be a fun if fairly derivative youth oriented film. So imagine my surprise at the solid comedy and somewhat referential sense of humor which makes up the film’s best parts. Director Lee Yeon-woo helms a thankfully straight up comedy that keeps the humor to the fore and reins in the melodrama that is so typical of this genre of film, especially in South Korea. There are a few elements which do start to creep in but they are relatively short and succeeded by jokes which typically hit the mark.
Lee Jung-suk and Park Bo-young have great chemistry together with Lee’s character’s propensity to shy away from the tough but ever watchful eye of Park’s Young-seok. There are times when his weeniness makes him hard to get behind, but he’s a good guy despite his MANY shortcomings. Park Bo-young does a terrific job as the tough and no-nonsense Young-seok; she’s cute and tough but still vulnerable. First taking notice of her in the smash hit A Werewolf Boy, she impresses again and is a young talent to look out for. The main cast is rounded out with good supporting turns from Lee Se-young as So-hee who has matured nicely from her days as a child actress, and the delightfully slimy Kim Young-kwang who plays his delinquent role with tons of gusto.
Where the film excels in the comedy for sure. Set in the past, the film goes to great lengths to poke fun at the time period, particularly with Joong-gil’s haircut and goofy mannerisms. The use of music is good with era-specific tunes making an appearance as well as surprisingly good vocal performance from Lee Se-young which kind of came out of nowhere. Seemingly self aware of the time period in which the film is set, there are a few blatantly obvious homages to Hollywood films present; from Risky Business to Mannequin and a few in between, the film actually has a lot in common with those film tonally, in that everything is kept light and big personalities exist on screen.
In the end, Hot Young Bloods is one of the better romantic comedies I’ve seen out of South Korea in quite some time. Hilarious and filled with good performances from a stable of young talent, I had a ton of fun with it. While it’s not anything that’ll change cinema or garner any awards, it’s a film that actually made me want to view it again and share it with others. Maybe that it’s final impression on me was multiple viewings were desired says everything that needs to he said about the film itself.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Two Faces of My Girlfriend, Conduct Zero, and/or Volcano High School