Unfolding in the supposedly kinder and gentler early ’80s, frosh helmer Dong-won Kim’s debut outing tends to equate innocence with incompetence in a world of faux gangsters, goon wannabes and fledgling Bruce Lees. Pic’s oddly detached tone gently encompasses broad comedy, bubble-gum romance and dance contest fever in a brightly colored wave of nostalgic inanity. Willfully old-fashioned in its retro self-consciousness, “Bet on My Disco” is unlikely to beat the odds and travel beyond its shores or to reach any but those who, like the director, were barely born when the decade began.
Three pals — one dumb, one truculent and one heroic — hang out in their lower-class neighborhood after school. They hone their unevenly developed kung-fu skills on local thugs, running through village streets where urban sophistication has made slow headway against agrarian primitivism.
The heroic member of the trio, is so designated because a) his are the only kung-fu moves that actually connect, b) he’s tall and handsome and c) he’s capable of sustained thought.
He falls for the sweet innocent sister of one of his pals, but she has become an unwilling hostess in a local dance hall. After the hero attempts but fails to rescue her, the gangster who holds her, an ex-mambo king, challenges him to a disco contest, with the girl as prize.
Helmer Dong-won Kim throws a few surprises into the familiar comedic set-up whereby clueless macho hero must don frilly pink shirts and mince around, and gets some mileage out of the specialized moves of local hoofers. In an underwater workout the hero’s disco gyrations actually look graceful but, back on land, Kim refrains from turning his athlete into anything but a mediocre dancer who tries real hard.
Even the romanticized snow-falling finale, featuring a heart-shaped moon, retains a certain sappy integrity. Lensing is assured and music selections sufficiently treacly to nip any incipient disco revival in the bud.