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Film Review: Brave Citizen (2023) by Park Jin-pyo
Film Review: Brave Citizen (2023) by Park Jin-pyo

Film Review: Brave Citizen (2023) by Park Jin-pyo

“There are lines that one mustn’t cross in this world.”

Adapted from a Korean webcomic, “Yongamhan Shimin” created by Kim Jung-hyun, serialized first on Comico platform and later published on Naver Webtoon platform from 2014 to 2016. The story focuses on a female former boxing champion who starts her new career as a substitute teacher in a high school. In order to achieve her definite goal of becoming a full time teacher, she tries her best to avoid and ignore troubling situations. But she eventually has to confront the school’s most feared and cruel bully after seeing too much intolerable violence and becoming a victim herself.

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“Too Young to Die” (2002), a film about an elderly couple rediscovering sex was Park’s feature film debut. With his highly acclaimed “You Are My Sunshine” (2005), a tearjerker about the love between a farmer and a sex worker, he received the Best Director at the 26th Blue Dragon Film Awards. Now with “Brave Citizen”, he returns with a delightful action comedy about a shy substitute high school teacher So Si-min who faces exploitation, sexual harassment and school bullying before she is qualified as a real full-time civic education teacher.

The film starts off like any light-hearted rom-com, then it slowly unfolds into the dark and merciless world of bullying. The school bully is the untouchable Han Soo-gang, a well-off student with connections who does dreadful things to the weak even outside school. After noticing what Han has done, So, who happens to be a trained boxer herself, puts on a cat mask to protect her identity and goes after him. From here on it becomes an action packed vigilante tale and ends with the ruthless Han and the kind-hearted So in a boxing ring.

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Best known for her TV drama series like “Angel’s Last Mission: Love” (2019) and “Mr. Queen” (2021), Shin Hae-sun is right at home playing the cute and charming teacher with hidden powers, So Si-min. In addition, she is equally impressive and convincing with those demanding action sequences, thanks to her martial arts training before filming. Still, it feels good and satisfying to see her beating up the bully who is bigger than her. Although her backstory about how she saves her father’s boxing gym is predictable, it does add a bit of emotional touch to it.

Portrayed chillingly by Lee Jun-young, the school bully Han Soo-gang with his intense stares is simply pure evil and without remorse. Designed to provoke anger from the viewers, the bullying scenes are quite hard to watch at times; besides being physical, they are equally emotional and psychologically played out. Furthermore, this is essential in the development of the plot and the building up of the villain. Therefore it is such a joy to see him get what he deserves later on.

The main victim of bullying is Jin-hyeong, played by Park Jung-woo in a stand out and memorable performnace. From a poor family and living with his grandmother who sells sushi rolls on the streets, they are both victims of Han and his gang. To protect his poor grandma, he steps in to take her place and Han sure gives him hell every day. Elsewhere, Park Hyuk-kwon plays So’s father and Cha Chung Hwa turns up as the school teacher who takes a shine to him. They both provide a bit of comedy relief in between the film’s serious moments.

South Korean film industry’s renowned action director, Heo Myeong-haeng, the man behind the action in “The Roundup” film series and “Hunt” (2002) is responsible for the amazing fight scenes here. He sure knows how to make heroine So looks great, high kicking around and throwing punches. Lee is equally impressive in the action department too and both of them share good screen chemistry.

On the surface, the film plays like a comedy but it also deals with the much sensitive and timely social issues like school bullying, violence and teachers’ rights. Judging by the numerous TV drama series and films focusing on these themes, it looks like these serious issues are becoming more exposed in South Korea.

Even though “Brave Citizen” touches on some serious topics and is emotional at times, it is amazingly entertaining thanks to the well choreographed action set pieces. Also, it is good to see the actors, especially Shin, involved physically instead of just depending on editing to make them believable action wise. The outcome of the good against evil may be predictable, but it is the journey that counts.