A glorious mixture of themes and styles make up the South Korean film, Karaoke Crazies. Directed by Sang-chan Kim (Highway Star) and written by Ji-hong Park (first screenplay), the film involves blowjobs, addiction to gaming, porn, drinking, smoking, ramen eating, and a serial killer. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Owning a dump of a karaoke establishment in a small town is not exactly bringing in the big bucks for widower Sung-wook (Moon-sik Lee). Actually he is behind on most of his bills. In a last ditch effort to save his business he hangs a sign outside saying that he is hiring a “helper” and that the salary would include lodging. A helper is a female who sings along with the clients. Despite the fact that she is rather morose in nature and is wearing a green track suit, Sung-wook hires Ha-suck (So-eun Bae).
She is quite bad at the job and singing, so Sung-wook ends up having to give back the money paid by most customers. It is only when he sits Ha-suck, who is on her laptop constantly playing games, and tells her that the internet will be cut off that she decides to put some effort into her job. Since she cannot sing, Ha-suck is going to have to think of another way to keep the clients happy.
She must be doing something right because no longer are customers asking for their money back. On the contrary the karaoke is doing good business for the first time. Sung-wook, prying himself away from watching porn all night, peeps in the window of the door of Ha-suck and finds out she has been performing a sexual act on the male customers. That is what has them coming back. He overlooks it because he is finally making money.
In all the excitement, Sung-wook forgets to take down the help wanted sign and soon he has another helper working for him, Na-Ju (Na-mi Kim). She is a legit helper (meaning does not perform sex acts) and also starts doing well. Sung-wook even hires a big deaf-mute guy (Jun-ho Bang – first film) to help keep the place clean. Not that he really had a choice because the big guy had been secretly living there for about a month. Things are going well for this little makeshift family. This is though each of them has a rather sad backstory. Still, they are all smiling for the first time in a long time. That is until a serial killer’s arrival ruins all the fun.
This off-beat film relies on the performances of the four leads. Due to their layered performances (all are asked to be funny and poignant at different times) plus the fact that the film is expectedly funny at times then unexpectedly sweet and moving others, the end result is rather surprising. The standout for me was Na-mi Kim, who delivers most of her lines in a high paced and ear shattering way. Every time she is on the screen she is the centre of attention whether the story demands it or not. Not allowing Na-Ju to become a one-note character she adds some delicate moments to overwhelmingly over-the-top ones.
It is the softer moments that rescue this film from just being silly. The sad moments each of the characters go through grounds the entire story. Those moments really resonate. Oftentimes those moments come in the form of one line questions. Questions like “Do I look happy?” and “Why must we show that we’re hurting?”. Food for thought from a surprising place.
Not sure that this type of zany and weird film would result in big box office, but for a genre film festival like Fantasia this exactly the type of film fans love. Equal parts wacky, gloomy, graphic, and surprising, Karaoke Crazies always has the viewer entertained. So much so that you don’t even mind all the bad singing.