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Brave Citizen - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Yong-gam-han si-min

South Korea 2023

Action, Drama

Park Jin-pyo

Shin Hye-sun
Lee Jun-young
Park Jung-woo
Park Hyuk-kwon
Lee Seung-min
Cha Chung-hwa
Son Sook

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Brave Citizen

Brave Citizen - Film Screenshot 1

Story: So Si-min (Shin Hye-sun) is hired as a temp at a high school that has officially made it its priority to fight bullying. However, it is precisely at this school that Han Soo-kang (Lee Jun-young) is causing trouble. Along with his clique he bullies the whole school, but he especially has it out for Jin-hyeong (Park Jung-woo). The level of violence he uses against the student as well as the psychological terror push Jin-hyeong to his limits. He confides in Si-min who wants to help him immediately. Nevertheless, this proves to be difficult because Soo-kang's family is extremely influential. Not only has Soo-kang gotten away with everything so far, but the teachers are even deliberately looking the other way in order not to jeopardize their jobs. Si-min is encouraged to do the same if she wants to get a permanent position. She wants nothing more than that, but she can't just stand by and watch her student suffer on a daily basis either. When she confronts Soo-kang, he starts to harass her too. Since Si-min used to be a boxer who had enormous potential but eventually gave up the profession, she decides to take an unusual path: she puts on a mask and confronts the student in a street fight...

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Brave Citizen - Film Screenshot 4

Review: I imagined "Brave Citizen" to be a candy-colored comedy, but without being "involuntarily awkward", since the movie was pretty successful at the box office and the trailer also looked promising. In fact, the basic tone of the flick turns out to be quite lighthearted, but right from the start the topic of violence and bullying at school gives you a punch to the gut. The bullying scenes are not for the faint of heart, as they manage to involve us emotionally and make a lot of anger rise up inside of us. Of course, this is essential for a movie that wants to create a satisfying feeling at the end when the villain is finally brought to justice. In terms of its plot, "Brave Citizen" is pretty straightforward, but that can even be understood as a strength here. Without big flourishes, the movie doesn't get lost in unnecessary subplots, but instead manages to portray Soo-kang as a guy about whom there is no need to find out the origin of his violence. He is simply evil incarnate.

Brave Citizen - Film Screenshot 5

Accordingly, the flick isn't too complex, but rather paints a good picture of the characters. Si-min innocently bats her eyelashes at work and comes across as a wallflower while trying to cover up advances and inappropriate behavior with her innocence. In private, however, she is filthy-mouthed, and thanks to her boxing background, she could easily punch just about anyone into the ground. Shin Hye-sun ("A Day") manages to successfully bring both sides to the screen, and thanks to some good action scenes it doesn't look embarrassingly wannabe-"cool" as I feared it would at first. This was also the moment when I realized that "Brave Citizen" is not the ridiculous comedy it could have turned out to be. While there are typical elements of a sports movie in which the underdog works his way up (even though the teacher can't really be called an underdog), aspects like bullying and violence in schools are also dealt with vividly, so that the story is sometimes even thought-provoking.

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It's strange that you can have so much fun watching a teacher beat up her student. And you won't have to wait too long for that. The movie, which is an adaptation of the webtoon of the same name, uses some clever tricks. On the one hand, there is a female teacher at the center, and on the other hand, a male student who is no longer a minor. Since the "weaker" sex triumphs over the school bully and justice prevails, we also get that underdog touch that I mentioned before. Imagine it were the other way around - the movie wouldn't work at all. At the same time, the plot takes advantage of society's tendency to overcorrect things these days. While teachers once used to beat their students in Korea, now they often have to look the other way and let students get away with just about anything, especially if the parents are influential and rich. So, the old principle of the hero who doesn't care about money and only fights for justice works here, too. And since Soo-kang is portrayed as substantially evil and is even violent towards girls, it brings you full joy when he gets what he deserves.

Brave Citizen - Film Screenshot 7

So far, director Park Jin-pyo mainly made a name for himself through dramas such as "Closer to Heaven". Fortunately, the drama doesn't turn out too tearful here, but that's why it manages to hit you even harder when, for example, we see a student standing on the school roof because he just can't take it anymore. And the victim's family situation is also pretty touching. The balancing act between good humor and bullying drama is the greatest achievement that Park accomplished here. In one scene we find out that the gang members around Soo-kang are actually only bullying others because they are afraid of becoming one of his victims themselves, in the next scene Si-min's father thinks that he could also do justice under the cat mask and immediately gets his fair share for it in a humorous way. It's a rare thing that the mixture of serious social issues, personal problems of the characters, and comic relief works as well as it does here.

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Brave Citizen - Film Screenshot 10

The action is also impressive. No wonder, since Heo Myeong-haeng, who is also known for the action in the "The Roundup"-series, puts a lot of energy into the fights here. There's nothing girly, instead you can literally feel the power behind every punch. Of course, there could be a stuntwoman doing the job under the mask, and it's needless to say that the teacher has to stay disguised at first, but in the end, she cannot keep her identity a secret anymore, otherwise it would be a great disappointment for the viewer. So, actress Shin Hye-sun has to put her skills to the test - and her training for the movie has paid off. It's always nice to see actors really getting involved and not just relying on the editing to make them look good in fights. That's why, the action proves to be another highlight of the movie, next to the well-portrayed emotions. "Brave Citizen" may deal with familiar notions, but it does so in an original way. It's been a long time since a Korean movie dealing with serious topics also managed to be that entertaining and leave you in such a good mood.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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