With comic pirouettes and surprise flips, South Korean romantic comedy “Dancing Queen” is a buoyant Capra-esque venture that sometimes stumbles but never fails to dazzle. Frequent laughs adorn the script’s depiction of a drifting married couple — a lawyer and an aerobics instructor — trying to stay committed while he takes a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-style crack at politics, and she chases a dream of dancing fame. Pic’s early January release scored points with local auds to the tune of $26.4 million, and Stateside producers seeking remake material should line up for a look.
It’s 1982, and democracy is experiencing its first rumblings in South Korea when Jung-min (Chun Bo-geun), who hails from Busan, moves to Seoul and runs afoul of “sophisticated” schoolgirl Jung-hwa (Ahn Eung-jung). The pair’s childhood antipathy morphs into romance years later, when Jung-min, now played by Hwang Jung-min (“The Unjust,” “Shiri”), has become an uptight student activist who meets good-time girl Jung-hwa, now played by Eom Jeong-hwa (“Haeundae,” Insadong Scandal”), and finds himself emotionally liberated.
When love fades, reality sets in, and the now-married couple’s former antagonism returns: Jung-min is a lawyer often working pro bono on behalf of poor, elderly and/or socially disadvantaged clients, leaving the financial burden of the household to fall on Jung-hwa, who teaches aerobics classes. But when the Seoul government begins looking for an honest man to clean up the mess left by entrenched corrupt politicians, Jung-min’s fortunes start to turn; around the same time, Jung-hwa lucks into an opportunity to be a singer and dancer with a risque K-pop group, the Dancing Queens.
The script’s major drawback is its lengthy exposition; it takes more than an hour for the story to nudge up against its ultimate dilemma about whether Jung-hwa will follow her dancing dreams and destroy her husband’s chances of political success. Fortunately, the pic boasts abundant laughs that offset its draggy progress.
While regular guy Hwang is a deliberate mismatch for the sexed-up Eom, the pair’s characterizations are note-perfect. In addition to displaying comedic flair, both thesps nail the emotional intensity the story’s climax requires without betraying the pic’s primarily humorous thrust. Supporting thesps transcend their broad stereotypes with exuberance and professionalism, with Ra Mi-ran a standout as Jung-hwa’s Rosie O’Donnell-like best friend/hairdresser, Myeong-ae.
Eschewing fancy moves, writer-director Lee Seok-hoon (“See You After School”) exhibits a functional, uncluttered approach to directing, always working in service of his script. Although shot on film, the pic has the washed-out look of overlit video; regardless, when it comes to Eom’s dance numbers, the visuals glitter and sparkle like a disco ball. Score by Hwang Sang-jun is a little trite, but does the job; for the record, the Abba song referenced by the title is conspicuously absent here. Other tech credits are solid.