First Song Joong-ki project that should have stayed in the drafts
Kim Chang-hoon’s Hopeless premieres at Un Certain Regard of Cannes Film Festival 2023 with the cast and crew in attendance including Song Joong-ki and Bibi. Unfortunately, fans and cinephiles were let down as Hopeless turns out to be the first Song Joong-ki project we wished had ended before it even began.
Rising actor Hong Sa-bin plays the lead, Yeon-gyu who lives a miserable life in a hopeless neighbourhood. His alcoholic step-father is liberal with his beatings while his classmates often target his step-sister Hayan, played by Bibi. All Yeon-gyu wants to do is make enough money to escape with his mother to greener pastures such as Netherlands. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t pan out as forces out of his control keep putting him down.
His stars start changing when he catches the attention of Chi-geon portrayed by Song Joong-ki as a quietly dangerous gangster with a soft spot for troubled kids. After Yeon-gyu is fired for having scars, he joins Chi-geon’s gang, acting as a loan shark, and stealing and reselling bikes. It seems to be going swimmingly till one of the gang’s target is someone he knows and his conscience gets the better of him.
As for the technical aspects, one cannot go against any Korean films as even their low-budget productions are on par. The same can be said for Hopeless from the realistic gory scenes, constant sombre music that amps up the tension and crafty action choreography.
Unsurprisingly, the symbolisms and metaphors are exciting to interpret as well like the dragging steps and glass-breaking which announces the presence of the step-father before we even see him or guess his next move. While the film doesn’t shy from explicit gore, some of the violence is off screen, behind closed doors, curtains, windows and cut scenes, dialing up the sympathy for the good guys.
Hong Sa-bin as the sulking teenager proves his mettle from his angry outbursts to PTSD symptoms of being in the same room as his step-father. Bibi in her first acting role tries her best as Hayan but is more or less a prop for Yeon-gyu, a crutch and a plot device for his character development. Jung Jae-kwang as Chi-geon’s subordinate, Seung-mu has the potential for a comedic and tense dynamic with Yeon-gyu, but in hopes of making Hopeless an overwhelming and bitter experience of how bad life can get, it ruins their relationship.
Even the step-father is a grey character, a flawed and sad man but none of these characters get any space to actually develop except for the main lead. The story does try to create a heroic anti-hero and father figure with Chi-geon but the last half of the film ends in disaster. While Hopeless starts off with a realistic and bittersweet premise, it starts to digress, making one wonder about the purpose of the film. As the last fight starts going in circles, the motives feel pointless and childish, and that’s what ruins whatever hope one may have had for the movie.
Verdict - 7/10