Killing wimpy men in a chick film is lots of fun. "Hellcats" (Ddeugeoun geotsi joa), a girls-only initiation drama, follows the feminist formula faithfully, but does not go the full nine yards; no guys ends up shot. Instead, the gals toy with the emasculated Korean men -- in and outside of bed.
The movie, to be released on Jan. 17, is chiefly concerned with the three representative women (or girls, if you like). The narrator is A-mi (Kim Min-hee), a twenty-something screenwriter who has yet to create her debut feature, and struggles with a deadbeat boyfriend whose prospect as a professional rocker seems slim, at best.
And in the bit-mature, quasi-womanly stage is her big sister Young-mi (Lee Mi-sook), a middle-aged, almost workaholic interior designer who gets entangled with a far younger boyfriend.
Making up the three-way girly scheme is Young-mi`s daughter Kang-ae (Ahn So-hee), a sexually confused high school girl who wants her boyfriend to act more manly -- for instance, by taking some romantic initiative, as with the much-anticipated first kiss.
Since "Hellcats" is director Kwon Chil-in`s latest feature following his groundbreaking girl-oriented "Singles" (2003), a similar pattern is hardly surprising. What is unexpected, though, is the degree to which men`s roles are diminished.
<**1>A-mi, for instance, keeps sleeping with her boyfriend Heung-soo, but she knows too well that this rocker-wannabe does not have any real chance to succeed in this tough world where there is no protection whatsoever for talentless men.
A-mi willy-nilly stumbles into a better choice -- this time, a capable man named Seung-won (Kim Seong-su), who is an accountant for Deloitte`s Seoul office. Except for this guy`s dreadful sense of humor, A-mi vaguely assumes that her life would change for the better if she tied the knot with him.
But what really concerns her is neither of these men. She is, after all, an aspiring screenwriter, and she is determined to finish her first project, no matter what. When it comes to determination and toughness, A-mi is portrayed as a cinematic macho who used to be a hardcore chainsmoker, but resolutely quits cigarettes once she gets serious about her career -- a far stronger, almost traditional alpha male approach that is prominently lacking in the movie`s male characters.
Young-mi is psychologically a big girl, too. She falls into a deep sense of loss and disappointment when she a callous (yes, male) doctor tells her that her menopause is the cause of her latest mood swings. Undaunted, she keeps her chin up, and tries not to lose her control when dealing with her sexual partner who wants to have an emotional tug of war.
Young-mi`s cute daughter, Kang-ae, is depicted as a cute seductress. She wonders why her boyfriend has not attempted to kiss her in the past three years, and one of her close friends rightly suggests that he might be gay. Kang-ae is not a sit-and-wait type, so she sets up a private meeting, in her own house, and ventures to initiate what she thinks will be the most erotic moment in her life, only to find that something goes embarrassingly wrong.
The movie`s strengths largely lie in its single-handedly feminist approach, which highlight the emotional and sexual travails of female characters. Its weaknesses involve its monochromatic male characters who are no more than lame stereotypes.
Given that a growing number of women wield enormous influence in every sector of Korean society, from the court to big corporations to, well, the film industry, director Kwon`s continued focus on the girls` cinematic growth is a welcome addition to the fast-increasing list of movies dedicated to women. Even though Kwon is not the sex of choice in the postmodern world, he knows how to plunder the new era of "girl power."
One of the notable changes, in terms of acting, comes from Kim Min-hee. She seems quite believable as an open-hearted drunk at a bar who goes for a one-night stand, only to realize her mistake next morning, when she hurriedly picks up her clothes and heads for her home, struggling with a hangover. The movie`s most compelling moment involves Kim`s impassioned delineation of the central character going through various stages of her life -- especially her giving up certain things in favor of her dream and career.
Lee Mi-sook, a veteran actor, gives a seasoned performance, bolstering this otherwise too-lighthearted fare. Lee`s subtle facial expressions and suggestive moves overwhelm her counterpart, so much so that viewers may not care whether the man in question is not that bad, after all.
Ahn So-hee, who makes her big-screen debut, manages to showcase her innocent image. But most folks in the audience are likely to pay special attention to Ahn because she is the youngest member of the wildly popular female music group Wonder Girls, whose smash hit song "Tell Me" conquered the nation`s pop charts in 2007.
The movie does not say or show anything about the traditional fatherly figure. Lee Mi-sook`s husband is missing on the screen; there is no meaningful explanation about him. Ahn So-hee`s father, in other words, disappeared a gone long time ago, and nobody seems to miss him. The sobering lesson for not-so-talented traditionally pretentious men is clear: In the age of Wonder Girls, it`s time for men to reinvent themselves -- for instance, by playing a bit part in a chicks film like "Hellcats."
By Yang Sung-jin