Kim Sang-Chan’s debut feature film Karaoke Crazies is a charmingly off-beat drama about a failing karaoke bar and the band of oddballs who make it their home. First off, Sang-Chan deserves credit for executing a film which boomerangs through tones so fast it will give you whiplash. At one moment the film will have you giggling at its ridiculous nature, at others there’s an eerie intensity, but even when the film seems to throw its lot in with violence and rape, and it still swings back around to family-friendly joviality. The key to all of this appears to be Sang-Chan’s own buoyant ideals: even when life hits its lowest rung, there’s a way back up with the right family.
Kin Kyung-Hee’s production design is a key part of Karaoke Crazies cosy alienated fantasy element. The bar itself looks like an underground hospital or school, the large doorways and vaulted ceilings hint at a rabbit warren of dead-end dreams. Even Sang-Chang’s camera glides in from the outside world, down dark steps into the subterranean bar, instantly making the viewer feel oddly safe and hidden. Karaoke Crazies is a place where people go to hide from the outside world, and Sang-Chan affords us on opportunity to hide too.
There’s too many dark and graphic elements to make this a light-hearted film, from rape, through domestic violence, and murder, it’s a heavy narrative at many points. The cast are wonderful, each putting in their bit to help the audience understand that those dark moments are actually the shadows of significantly lighter touches. As the film progresses each perfectly formed character is given a chance to explain their odd behaviour or cynical worldview, granting us access to events and memories we never saw coming.
Above all else, Karaoke Crazies is about family, more specifically it’s about the family we choose, rather than the one we are born in to. Like any family, this one is composed of quarrels and secrets, but the real treat comes from watching these colourful wierdos put aside their differences to look after each other. The tonal shifts and quirky characters work in tandem to give Sang-Chan’s debut a distinctly fantastic element.
Dir. Kim Sang-Chan
Stars: Bang Jun-Ho, Moon-Sik Lee, Kim Na-Mi, Bae So-eun