"Kick the Moon (Shinlaui dalbam)", one of the many gangster comedies to grace South Korean movie screens in the fall of 2001, was director Kim Sang-jin's long-awaited follow-up to his 1999 smash hit "Attack the Gas Station! (Juyuso sebgyuksageun)". A screwball comedy about a bizarre love triangle that develops between a smooth gangster, a strict schoolteacher, and a comely noodle shop owner, "Kick the Moon" doesn't achieve the 'classic' status of Kim's previous effort. Nevertheless, this rambunctious production it still is worth a gander, particularly for the fun performances of its three leads.
The story begins in the early Eighties with a rumble between two rival schools in the city of Gyeongju. Caught in the midst of the youth violence are Ki-woong, a popular student whose exploits that night would become the stuff of legends in the years to come, and the geeky Young-jun, who is probably the least popular kid at school. Fast-forward two decades later and both of these kids have grown into very different young men. Ki-woong (Cha Seung-won of "Libera Me") has become a dedicated teacher at his former alma mater, while Young-jun (Lee Seong-jae of "Attack the Gas Station!") has become a 'big boss' in the Korean mafia.
However, their paths cross once again when Young-jun is sent to Gyeongju to muscle out a rival gang, and though their reunion is amicable at first, a series of complications lead them to declare war on each other. First, they meet the lovely Min Ju-ran (Kim Hye-su, who appeared alongside Mira Sorvino and Takeshi Kaneshiro in "Too Tired to Die"), who owns a small noodle shop, and both men end up being smitten. Second, Ki-woong sees Young-jun as a corrupting influence on his students, particularly Ju-ran's younger brother Ju-seob (Lee Jong-su), who are becoming increasingly enamoured with the gangster lifestyle and beg to become part of Young-jun's gang. Meanwhile, Young-jun's gangland rival is quietly plotting his revenge, placing all of the above in jeopardy. And like "Attack the Gas Station!", all of these small plot points culminate into a mammoth conflagration of gangsters, students, and police.
The most interesting aspects of "Kick the Moon" are its characters. In contrast to "Attack the Gas Station!", which was a little thin on characterization (probably because there were so many of them), "Kick the Moon" maintains a pretty good focus on its main characters.
Lee is suave as a gangster who, despite his underworld ties, uses his status for good, such as how he convinces Ju-seob and his school chums to become top-ten students with the implied promise of recruitment if they get good grades-- something that Ki-woong has tried and failed to do many times before. And speaking of Ki-woong, Cha is fun to watch as a hardworking (not to mention pugilistic) teacher who goes above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that his students stay out of trouble. Rounding out the love triangle is Kim, whose Ju-ran character seems to have taken a few cues from "My Sassy Girl". When Ju-ran first appears, she is demure and humbly apologetic as she begs the police not to arrest her brother. But as soon as she steps outside, Ju-ran exacts punishment on Ju-seob that is even more brutal than what the police are willing to do. Similarly, another great scene has an intoxicated Ju-ran screaming at the top of her lungs that Ki-woong and Young-jun make peace and holds hands as they walk down a crowded thoroughfare. Aside from these three leads, "Kick the Moon" has a number of other interesting supporting characters and the absurd situations they find themselves in, such as an aging detective who has a habit of throwing his wallet and badge to announce his arrival, or Young-jun's gangland rival who must deal with being called back for mandatory military training.
"Kick the Moon" ended up being the third highest-grossing homegrown production in 2001, trailing just behind "Friend" and "My Sassy Girl". And though it isn't quite the home run that "Attack the Gas Station!" was, as it occasionally gets bogged down by some slow pacing and meandering storytelling, it still possesses enough charm, absurd wit, and subversive humor to satiate fans of Kim Sang-jin's 1999 comedy. And as an added bonus for Korean cinema aficionados outside of Asia, even though it is stated that the DVD release is Region 3 only, it is actually a region-free disc.