One of the most realistic rock 'n' roll movies comes, ironically, from a country where the youth-made music is still actively discouraged. Perhaps that's why "Jungle Story" captures the edgier qualities now lost to Western poppers, and pop sagas. Pic could click with artier offshore kids, but copyright problems seem certain to sink that notion. Tale follows the adventures, musical and otherwise, of Do-Hyun (real-life rocker Yoon Do-Hyun), a provincial sad sack who finishes his military service and hopes to resume his endeavors with a local band. When his dad keeps nagging him about the evils of rock, the younger man heads down to Seoul, where he runs into a hometown pal (Kim Min-Soo) already gigging in the only "underground" bar.
Do-Hyun lends his pipes, and gets noticed by a corporate talent scout and wizened manager Ji-Woo (impressive Kim Chang-Wan). They spot the handsome, taciturn singer as a possible teen idol, and set up an MOR recording session for him. The CD gets pressed, but at the last minute the company gets cold feet, calling even this bland fare “uncommercial.” The singer is back on his own, but he is able to hand a copy of the disc to the pretty pharmacist (Cho Yong-Won) where he gets his daily liquid-caffeine fix.
Do-Hyun’s journey continues, with each artistic advancement followed by a commercial setback. When frightened authorities shut down the club, his band, aided by a reluctant investment from the jaded Ji-Woo, rents a small stadium and develops a potent act which, unfortunately, very few people see. There are the usual intra-combo tensions, and even some furious breakups, but the guys manage to come together for a spontaneous shindig in the street — right across from the local cop shop. It’s an exhilarating finish to an essentially downbeat tale, and a doubly brash one since the filmmakers ran the same risks staging the scene as did the characters in the story.
Helmer Kim Hong-Joon remains scrupulously honest with material that normally lends itself to hyperbole, and he avoids pop-biz cliches at every turn. (Even the potential romance with the pharmacist is left deliciously unresolved.) He also leaves plenty of room for real Korean bands, including Sinawe and N.E.X.T., to strut their stuff, consisting largely of corny heavy-metal riffs and surprisingly pointed and poetic lyrics (as they appear in unusually well-translated subtitles). Lenser Byun Hee-Sung finds snaky, volatile new ways to look at familiar stage (and backstage) antics, and editor Park Gok-Ji avoids MTV-style snipping altogether.
This “Story,” from a land where all rock is alternative, has plenty to offer Stateside auds who think they’ve seen everything. Use of cover versions and background tunes by Bob Dylan and others has created a mess with publishers, however, and pic is likely to remain stuck at home. That’s too bad, because Kim, who directed 1994’s popular “La Vie En Rose” and who speaks English, seems capable of handling a Hollywood-sponsored effort on a similar theme.