Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"These Go to Eleven..."

Turn It Up to 11 (2009) - Baek
No, unlike what its title alludes to(from the classic 1984 rock mocumentary This is Spinal Tap), chronicling the vibrant Korean indie rock movement, Turn It Up to 11 is a real deal. And yes, it's loud. It's good times.

It begins with Lee Kyu-young, an aging punk who comes back to his hometown, Incheon, to settle down after having a kid, leaving his rock'n'roll days in Hong Dae (an area known as the mecca for Korean youth culture near the famous art college, Hong-Ik Univ). Then he gets an idea of turning a defunct tiny bar in the motel alley(crummier Korean version of love hotel zone in Shinjuku) to a club where indie rock bands can play. Because of Lee's reputation from his olden days, his label Ruby Salon attracts the loudest band in the lot, Galaxy Express (the name comes from Japanese anime from the '80s), a trio of good looking, hard rock playing kids in black attire. They are not only pretty faces but also very talented, heading for their inevitable stardom. Then there is Tobacco Juice: a bunch of (in Lee's words) lazy douche bags whose reggae tinged melodious music is unbearably catchy but because of their laziness, rarely manage to put on a live show. In the film, more than once do they miss their own gig because they get drunk at the bar (director Baek Seung-hwa gets to capture all these because he's the drummer of the band).

There are interesting parallels to be drawn with Lee and the English unorthodox rock promoter Tony Wilson who was memorably portrayed by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, about '80s Manchester music scene: Tobacco Juice is Lee's Happy Mondays- talented they are but too much of slackers to be ultimately successful.

As Galaxy Express gains popularity through word of mouth while appearing in various prestigious music festivals in front of growing adoring fans, and being regarded as the loudest rock band ever, Tobacco Juice struggles to put out their first studio album in 4 years. Their journeys are filled with joy, friendship, drama, self-deprecating humor, dirty online chats, Chinese dubs, diehard fans, instant ramen noodles, many weird and charming characters, massive quantities of soju and other alcoholic beverages and best of all, very awesome music.

Even though shot in mostly underexposed hand-held video camera, constantly moving from darkly lit small bars to clubs to living rooms to stages with a narration that is more of a fanboy ramble, Turn It Up to 11 nevertheless succeeds in intimately capturing that intoxicating youthful energy of rock'n'roll. As Lee jokingly answers at the end when asked what rock'n'roll is about. "It's about nothing. You have a good time and the show is over and you go home", the film captures those short beautiful moments before we go home.

Review at Twitch

1 comment:

  1. This film is starting to get some traction in the U.S. finally. It's streaming on and one of the band did a promo with