Swing Kids is a South Korean movie, directed by Kang Hyeong Cheol starring Do Kyung Soo, Jared Grimes, Park Hye Su, Oh Jung Se and Kim Min Ho. It is a story of five misfits in the Geoje war camp who resort to tap dancing to escape the hardships of war. Based on a musical by the name of “Rho Ki Soo” by Jang Woo Sung, Swing Kids is a unique blend of goof with sobriety. Swing Kids clashes desire with destruction that better not go with each other. The movie also bombards two polar opposite genres of musical and war to create an ecclesiastical yet eccentric movie. The sharp taps of feet can be heard over the blaring sounds of bombs and the low droning of guns. Swing Kids explores freedom, freedom that is expensive enough for lives.
The Plot of Swing Kids:
Set in the Geoje war camp in South Korea, Jackson is a former Broadway dancer. He is instructed by his superiors to train the Korean and Chinese war prisoners to put up a tap dance showcase on Christmas in order to attract attention to the prison camp. Amidst masses of failure, he finds our leads, Roh Ki Soo, a rebellious North Korean soldier who sneers at Americans, Yang Pan Rae, a South Korean entertainer who joins for some extra cash to feed her family, Kang Byung Sam, a prisoner who stumbles upon them in order to find his missing wife and Xiao Pang, a Chinese soldier who loves dancing but fails to continue it due to his illness.
The characters in Swing Kids:
Roh Ki Soo:
Roh Ki Soo(Do Kyung-Soo or EXO D.O) is a rebellious North Korean soldier. He later turns out to be the leader of the tap dance troupe. Being the little brother of the North Korean communist war hero, Ki Soo takes an assertive and dominant role among the North Korean soldiers. He actively despises Americans, capitalism and anything western. When Ki Soo finds out about the “publicity stunt” he initially rejects the concept of tap dancing. Yet, his curiosity and ambition to succeed at everything makes him fall in love with tap dancing.
Originally a Broadway dancer, Sergeant Jackson(Jared Grimes)is forced to stay in the camp leaving his family behind. He has to unwillingly train war prisoners to tap dance. As the only black man on the camp, he gets ostracized by his fellow American soldiers. He is also not on the same level of respect for war prisoners. Sceptical of his group of misfits, Jackson slowly comes to appreciate his only group of friends. He also finds a speck of happiness.
Yang Pan Rae:
Yang Pan Rae(Park Hye-Soo) is one of the rookie entertainers among the South Korean women who entertain American soldiers for a fee. She joined the troupe as a translator for Jackson and to earn a little extra cash. But, later became a member and found peace in tap dancing.
Kang Byung Sam:
Kang Byung-Sam(Oh Jung-Se) is a South Korean soldier. He is caught in between the North Koreans and the Americans. He lost his wife among the refugees and scoured the camp in vain for his wife. Kang Byung-Sam joined the troupe with the motive of publicising himself so that his wife recognises him and they can reunite. He ultimately finds his wife through tap dancing and falls in love with it.
Xiao Pang(Kim Min Ho) is a shy Chinese soldier who was originally a classical Chinese dancer. But, he was pushed to war against his wishes. He suffers from a rare health disorder Angina which causes him to faint after 5 minutes of physically straining activities. He was the only member to join the troupe just for dancing.
The comedy in Swing Kids is not the giggling, bone tickling type. It is a satiric kind, coated in goof and quirk. The main comedy starts when the officers of the upper rank thought it was fun to throw in soldiers to dance when they don’t have food to eat. Swing Kids shows this undertone of repressed disdain for the leads who chose tap dance and the desire to paint them as clowns. If I had to put comedy in the “happy” vein, Swing Kids has moments of fleeting happiness and actual joy. The small break outs between Ki Soo and Jackson, the bickering between members and the situations which arose due to Ki Soo’s ego and refusal to back down are examples.
Romance is observed between Ki Soo and Pan Rae which turns out to be hilarious because of their awkwardness and equally stubborn headedness.
Happiness is seen when they all realise that they have a common goal and they love dance. One of these moments include Ki Soo and Pan Rae dancing in two separate places while David Bowie plays in the background.
What can be more tragic than having war as a backdrop? Everyone is miserable, death inevitable. Living under the pretense of patriotism and hatred when all they wanted to do was fly. The tragedy is Swing Kids is being stuck in time, in a warzone, living while hating and dying if you defy orders. The tragedy in Swing Kids lies in thwarted hopes and murder even when you can never kill. It lies in an escape that is promised but never realised. It lies in the guilt of having dreams when your family is starving. The tragedy lies in the loss of relations and loss of yourself. Unlike every war movie, Swing Kids gives hope but it snatches it away right before your eyes when all you could wish for was freedom.
Where everything ends in Swing Kids:
War never ends in Swing Kids ,it is tiresome, gnawing and lethal. The hunger for power and dictatorship is infectious. For an eccentric, out of the box movie like Swing Kids with a possible happy-ending, the real end is gruesome. The troupe had dreams , to dance freely, to attain recognition, to never go hungry, to do what they loved and to have a family. Those were never realised.
Stuck in between communism and capitalism, where everyone is bound by duty and patriotism and blinded by greed, these bunch of misfits wanted to live. The troupe members were killed mercilessly gunned down for being Korean while Jackson could watch silently knowing he’d be gunned down if he protested. Ki Soo who had to kill the highest-ranking officer knew what was coming. He watched himself failing, he watched his group dying and they took away something more precious to him than his life. They took away Ki Soo’s legs