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Bye June
Year: 1998
Director: Choi Ho
Writer: Choi Ho
  Cast: Yoo Ji-Tae, Kim Ha-Neul, Ha-Rang, Seo Yeong-Hee, Kim Seon-Hwa
  The Skinny: This depressing art film from 1998 about self-destructive youths serves better in principle. It's a worthy film to examaine, and not a bad film at all. However, it's not necessarily a film to enjoy.
Kevin Ma:
  Bye June
I'm going to the moon
I hope you make it soon
'Cause I'm waiting on this moon

--The Smashing Pumpkins' Bye June

     Youth is hip, dangerous, and self-destructive. At least that's what writer/director Choi Ho wants you to learn from his 1998 directorial debut Bye June, a dark drama about four reckless youngsters who indulge in drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. The film also marks the first pairing of Yoo Ji-Tae and Kim Ha-Neul, both of whom would later become two of Korean cinema's most prolific actors. Despite the presence of these talented actors, Bye June is also a relentlessly unpleasant but impressive piece of art cinema that foreshadows the coming of three very talented individuals.
     The thing that causes Bye June to drag is its self-importance. The film opens during the high school era for Doo-Gi (Yoo Gi-Tae), Chae-Young (Kim Ha-Neul), and their seemingly musical spiritual leader/Chae-Young's boyfriend June, who spouts philosophical speeches about techno music. However, on the last day of high school, June dies in a fire, and nothing will be the same again. Two years later, Doo-Gi and Chae-Young continue to live their lives with no real direction, going on drug-fueled trips and having pseudo-sex (apparently, Chae-Young never got to lose her virginity to June, and she hasn't felt like losing it to Doo Gi). Doo-Gi is finally with Chae-Young, but he knows that she hasn't moved on, and he might simply be a replacement for June. Then they have some more drugs, and some of them have some more sex. But finally, EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL.
     The strongest element of Bye June isn't the plot. It vaguely follows a three-act structure, but director Choi also tells his story with loads of experimental technique and a hip techno soundtrack (at least it's hip for 1998). It's fused with a lot of American rock and, unfortunately, the usual angst that comes with it (I knew the title was from a Smashing Pumpkins song because a character quotes another one of their songs in one scene). The final product, using both film and blue-tinted video footage, feels at times infused with the energy of a 70s experimental film, but it sometimes also drags when even supporting characters get their chance to say something profound.
     And Bye June does want to say a lot about youth, life, future, responsibility, destruction, death, and the list goes on and on. But it feels like a crapshoot, as if Choi just threw all these themes at the wall and waited to see which ones stuck. When it works, Bye June can be undeniably powerful stuff and very effective in provoking a response with its visuals. But when it doesn't - including its vague ending which seems to be teaching an oxymoronic lesson - the film meanders in its "youth is woe" theme in the form of a third act twist from out of left field, as if even Choi had realized the "moving on" lesson was getting thin.
     Even though both the film's two leads would move on to become high-profile actors, only one of them really delivers an effective performance. In his debut, Yoo Ji-Tae is missing the intensity found in his later performances in One Fine Spring Day and Oldboy. He spends much of the film seemingly wandering around, which is convincing since he plays a drug addict looking for some kind of direction. But by the time the climax arrives, his supposed anger and intensity are unconvincing, and he ultimately doesn't make much of an impression as the protagonist. On the other hand, Kim Ha-Neul brings an interesting dark side to Chae-Young; while her high-strung character doesn't get any over-the-top moments to shine, Kim is able to go to places that she would never again reach in her later performances. It may not be a standout performance, but it's safe to say that you will never see Kim go anywhere near a character like Chae Young again, and it's a performance worth treasuring.
     The biggest star of the film, however, is really director Choi Ho (although not Choi Ho the screenwriter). Educated in Europe, Choi gets to flex his directorial muscles everywhere in the film, whether it's setting up a wide shot of a wrecked department, or using blue-tinted video to represent an alcohol-fueled rush, or even employing the obvious technique of fisheye lenses for a wild party. Despite all of its unpleasantness, the inconsistent pace, and the self-indulgent post-film school stylish interludes, it's a promising debut for Choi, who would finally find his big hit with 2006's Bloody Tie. It may not be an entirely successful film (post-film school debut films rarely are), but it's an interesting discovery from the Korean film time capsule, and an example of a solid Asian art film. (Kevin Ma 2007)

Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 0 NTSC
Deok Seun Media co. Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, and Korean subtitles
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen