An essay of idolatry or perhaps an open love letter to Lee Je-Hoon would perhaps best describe the following review of My Paparotti. Late-comer; late bloomer, whatever you want to call him Lee Je-hoon is a face of current Korean cinema to watch! His versatility is notable for such a “young” actor. You reviled him as the enfant terrible come chaebol heir in Fashion King, you fell in love with him as camp and hopelessly-in-love Seok-I in Just Friends and your heart broke as his did in Architecture 101. Je-Hoon in My Paparotti commands your hope and your faith in the goodness of a person.
Director Yoon Jong-chan in My Paparotti reminds us that anyone can have a dream – they just have to find their true voice. Je-Hoon is Jang-ho, a sensitive high school gangster with a striking voice and a passion for Pavarotti. The film’s namesake comes from his cute mispronunciation of the aforementioned tenor. Worth mentioning is that actor Lee Je-Hoon can actually sing and it is with this skill that he convinces us of his operatic abilities as Jang-ho. The transformation from wayward youth accustomed to the life of gangs into gifted tenor is conveyed in every convincing facial expression and vocal mimicking portrayed by Je-Hoon. So compelling, that the first time you see Jang-ho sing you’re left with a heavy flow of tears and you won’t stop shedding tears there!
Expectations are set high when Nessun Dorma is mentioned. It carries with it immense talent and a canon of great performances. Imagine an actual gangster who won’t give up his dream of singing and he actually wants to perform this song. The scene is set for my favourite sequence of the film. Jang-ho has left behind the gangster life but no it’s come back to punch him in the gut one final time…just before his performance of Nessun Dorma at the singing competition teacher Sang-jin and he have been training hard for. Je-Hoon’s glory is here - centre stage as Jang-ho, in a bloody, disheveled tux and with cuts to his face he manages to belt Nessun Dorma to the audiences’ bewilderment and and to his teacher’s proud and overflowing joy. Previously you were crying a river and now you find yourself crying an ocean!
It is not just the amazing performance of Lee Je-Hoon that carries the film but also how director Yoon Jong-chan captures the interaction of the two leads. Han Seok-kyu is Sang-jin, the former highlighted vocalist turned country school music teacher. The mentor set to impose tough love on Jang-ho and nurture the talent he uncovers when he first hears him sing. As the gruff teacher, Seok-kyu is in every respect a 3D character. Nothing is forced and everything is real, even his slight envy of Jang-ho and his exchange of bodily parts for the freedom of Jang-ho. Convincing us of the “father-and-son” relationship that later develops between the two. The witty situational comedy between the two tugs at the heartstrings and tickles you with laughter - becoming the tender moments of the film.
Although My Paparotti may share some thematic elements with familiar cinema – think Mr. Holland’s Opus or even the interaction between Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2 – it stands on its own as it’s loosely based on a true story and the insight into Korean high school life juxtaposed with life growing up in the Korean underworld mark its difference. It’s moments of comedy, action and poignancy in addition to its two leading men round up this heartstring-tugging underdog triumph. Am I singing praises? Perhaps, but who cares …a thug who sings, how nice!
#KOFFIA2013 | Korean Film Festival in Australia