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South Korea 2006

Drama, Action

Yang Yun-ho

Lee Sung-jae
Choi Min-su
Lee Eol
Lee Bong-gyu
Jang Se-jin
Dong Hyun
Jo An
Moon Young-dong
Sol Sung-min
Yeo Hyeon-Soo

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Story: 1988: Ji Kang-heon (Lee Sung-jae) and his brother live in the slums of Seoul. For the Olympic Games the neighborhood is supposed to be purged, in order for the town to make a good impression on foreigners. The government even doesn't flinch from hiring detainees to violently evacuate the place. Ji's brother in desperation takes a hostage, whereupon the sadistic cop Kim An-seok (Choi Min-su) shoots him. Ji is sentenced to several years in prison because of resistance.
In prison Ji has to find out, that he isn't the only one who serves a sentence that is way too harsh considering his crimes. The reason for this unjustness is a law, that punishes poor crooks more than rich businessmen. It gets even worse for Ji as An-seok becomes the new boss of the prison. Between Ji and An-seok there are several quarrels at which end Ji always ends up in solitary confinement or is tortured.
However, with his stubbornness and his hatred for An-seok, Ji manages to make some friends among his cell mates. After he even gets gangster boss Dae-chul (Lee Eol) on his side, he makes some plans with his allies to get out of prison. When they are finally free, they want to inform the public about the injustice of Korean law.

Review: These days, there are already quite a bunch of prison movies. Only in Asia there seems to be no real interest for this genre, or maybe there are other reasons why there are only so few movies with this theme. In the first half "Holiday" borrows a lot from its big brother Hollywood, but what the film really wants to express becomes only apparent after our "heroes" have broken out of prison. At that time the movie becomes more lengthy and loses its focus every now and then, but if you can settle with the fact that "Holiday" is more of a drama than your typical prison flick, then you will be rewarded with some very nice emotional moments, which are even the more engaging and bitter as the story is based on real events of the year 1988 in Seoul.

The opening of the movie already gives us a first glance at the sociocritical undertone, which director Yang Yun-ho ("Fighter in the Wind") places high value on. The things that happened in Seoul at that time inevitably have to remind us from what we get to hear about Beijing's preparations for the Olympic Games 2008. Nevertheless, this is just mentioned on a side note, because the film's main focus lies on a controversial law, that is best described with the sentence that has been on any news channel in Korea at that time, and which is shouted out in desperation by our hero in this film: "Money buys justice - Lack of money leads to guilt." Only 2005, while this movie was still in production, the controversial law was finally abolished.

Director and script writer Yang draws very realistic characters, who may all be gangsters, some of them surely tend to be violent, but still, deep down they are not exactly bad people. They just had a harsh life and were unlucky enough to become the victims of a judicial system, that imposes a 7 year sentence for the repeated stealing of food. Maybe this is the reason why it's so easy for us to sympathize with the individuals portrayed here, because they don't take on the role of the culprit, but are actually the victims themselves. This becomes even more evident when the group around Ji eventually manages to escape and finds shelter at the homes of some residents of Seoul. Yeah, they are gangsters, but the hostages soon realize, that their life isn't in danger and that the hostage-takers are actually quite affable. This works out so well thanks to the thoughtful acting of the great cast and a good script, that never leaves any doubts about the genuineness of the feelings portrayed.

Unfortunately, "Holiday" also has its downsides. For once, there is the villian An-seok, which is played incredibly wacky and yet merciless by Choi Min-su to such a degree that you have to wonder if he thought that he would be participating in a live-anime-adaption. At times, he can be really annoying, even if he at least succeeds in gaining all the viewers hatred as the sadistic senior prison officer, thus also representing the unfair justice of Korean law.
Furthermore, after the first half the pacing starts to drag a lot. The chasing scenes of the police aren't really thrilling and some of the inevitable death scenes of certain characters seem to drag on too long, also, which deprives them from some of their emotional impact. It's also sad, that the film doesn't seem to know where it's heading until the last 20 minutes or so. Then, however, it all goes the course that seems predestined and this would be all nice and well, if there weren't a little bit too much pathos to be found in the dialogues. The film's message could have been conveyed more subtle and therefore more successful, too.

Concerning the pictures "Holiday" is well-crafted. The action sequences are shot in frantic, yet sharp images, so that nothing of the brutality depicted in some scenes is gettng lost. Lee Sung-jae ("Daisy", "Public Enemy") gives a genuine, at times subtle performance, whereas he also shows more emotions later on.
The song "Holiday" from the BeeGees fits perfectly into the movie, maybe because it stands in such a stark contrast to the bitter and gloomy rest of the movie, yet also provides that spark of hope, which the characters of the movie still carry in their hearts. It's not that the movie's title was chosen only because of the repeated use of that song throughout the film, but the hostage-taker portrayed by Lee Sung-jae actually in reality demanded from the police this song to be played, when he was already surrounded.

"Holiday" loses much of its momentum after the first half and somehow you get the feeling, that the movie didn't become the masterpiece it could have been. Some of the more emotional scenes are somewhat given away, the running time could have been more compact, and most of all it's pretty annoying that the director seems to temporarily lose out of sight what's really important for the story. Nonetheless, in the end "Holiday" is a well-done action drama that somehow has to remind us of "Silmido". The movie never gets boring and it's worthy of praise that there is even a message that the film wants to convey. Some final touches would have been great, but even as it is we get a nice and at times even touching drama.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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