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This is Hong-ki’s movie debut and I think he chose pretty well. It is not a film which requires him to act really out of character and he is aided by a pretty good set of veterens as supporting casts who manage to add some gravity to the show.

The Main Cast:

  • Lee Hong-ki as Choong-ui. A stuck up pop idol, who lost his mother to terminal illness. He blames his dad for not fighting for his mum’s life (he only finds out later his mum asked for euthanasia). Thus, he is repelled initially by the hospice’s residents and saw them as “losers”. His attitude eventually changes when he realises the hospice’s residents are all strong in facing their own deaths and he finally comes to terms with his mum’s passing. Choong-ui takes over from Moo-sung as the hospice’s band “Immortal Bird”‘s drummer.
  • Baek Jin-hee as An-na. A hospice’s resident who is in the last stage of intestinal cancer. She is spritely and energetic, cheering the other residents on and helping out in the hospice, despite being an orphan and diagnosed with terminal illness in her late teens. Choong-ui likes her, and although An-na acknowledges his feelings, they both know that they don’t have a future together. They share a kind of innocent love-friendship in the movie. She is the bass guitarist cum lead singer in Immortal Bird.
  • Ma Dong-seok as Moo-sung. An ex-gangster who terrorises Choong-ui on his first day of volunteer work, and basically cons ciggies from him at every chance. He has a brain tumour (in the last stage), and is the only character we actually witness dying in the movie. He used to be the drummer of Immortal Bird, but was unable to continue as his tumour acted up. Gruff and likes to pick fights with Bong-sik, but has a really pasty soft interior. He kinda has a crush with the hospice’s nun/chairperson.
  • Lim Won-hee as Bong-sik. A singer/rocker wannabe…who didn’t quite make it. Thus, he spends his time hanging around pubs hoping he will be talent spotted. Unfortunately, he is later diagnosed with cancer, and it leaves him in bitter regret for not paying more attention to his wife and only daughter whom he adores. He tries now to redeem himself by continuing to scrape miserly earnings singing in local pubs and giving part of his income to fund the hospice and the remainder as savings for his daughter’s college fees. He is the other guitarist in Immortal Bird.
  • Jung Min-seo as Ha-eun. The sweet little girl in the last stage of leukemia. Very close to An-na, and adores Choong-ui from Day 1. She used to undergo chemotherapy and absolutely hated it. So when doctors say that more chemos may not help her anymore, she insists on coming to the hospice to live out the rest of her (very short) life — much to her mother’s objections. She finally gets her mum to see her point of view and also accepts her eventual death in the end of the show. She plays the keyboard in Immortal Bird.

Plot summary:

The hilarious caught-in-the-peeing-act scene

Choong-ui gets carted off to do time (sorry, volunteer work) in a rural hospice, after he got into a brawl in a disco. Naturally he is upset and is a fish out of water in the rural setting. In addition, his first introduction to the hospice’s residents didn’t go exactly well. He was peeing (yeah..how idol-like) in the fields when Ha-eun passes  by and recognises him. She begins to take pictures of him (in all innocence, she really was juz very impressed an IDOL was in front of her…she didn’t intend to catch him peeing on cam..but LOL!). Choong-ui bullies her for the camera and is arm twisted by An-na who witnessed him making Ha-eun cry.

When Choong-ui finally gets his ass to the hospice, he is none too pleased to see that An-na will be in charge of his duties and she will be the one who gives him the duty stamps to prove his volunteer hours. And of course, he hates the chores assigned to him (though I think they don’t look THAT bad). He escapes to the yard for a breather and is accosted by Moo-sung, who immediately flashes his tatooed biceps and wrangles a whole pack of cigarettes from Choong-ui.

Immortal Bird members

Choong-ui later learns from the hospice’s doctors that the “patients” here are all awaiting death, since they have contracted some form of terminal illnesses. Strangely, Choong-ui’s reaction to hearing this is to explode and deride the whole bunch of them as losers. We get flashes of his life (pre-idol status) and understand that this is due to his own experience with his mother’s passing. He blames his dad (not on speaking terms now) and the doctors for giving up on Mum and letting her die without further treatments.

During his stint there in the hospice, he hears a rock band playing and is introduced to the “Immortal Bird”, the hospice’s own band which has a purpose of using music as a form of pain treatment (plus it gives the patients something to do besides thinking about their impending deaths). We learn that the hospice is facing financial difficulties and Bong-sik suggests the band takes part in the upcoming nation-wide competition to earn the cash money to fund the hospice. One criteria, however, is that the band must compose and perform their own song.

rock5Of course, the on-site composer is none other than Choong-ui…who adamantly refuses to help a bunch of people who will die anyway. An-na tries to tempt him, by giving him carrots in the form of lighter duties, double duty stamps…but that doesn’t move him…so she switches to the stick. Choong-ui is assigned the most disgusting tasks, like washing soiled adult diapers (ew) and cleaning old men’s fungi infested feet (double ew). STILL, he is unmoved. Until he receives a call from his manager who informs him that he is selected to perform in the States…BUT he will need to quickly complete the volunteer hours. Choong-ui jumps to volunteer his time for Immortal Bird, on condition that the double time stamp deal still holds.

Everything goes well, and we see Choong-ui developing a close bond with the band members and the rest of the hospice’s patients. He even manages to resolve the issue with his dad and finally accepts that his mum chose euthanasia instead of further treatments. However, a day before the performance. Moo-sung’s tumour starts to act up. He asks the doctors to keep it from the band members and injects more morphine to deal with the pain, but on the day of the competition, he falters and collapses on stage.

rock3The competition organisers are unwilling to let Immortal Bird have another go at competing (even if Choong-ui takes over as drummer), because the performers are terminally ill patients…and will not be able to endure the long and grueling publicity campaigns even if they win. To make matters worse, An-na overhears Choong-ui’s manager telling him to give up on Immortal Bird, since he has already clock the necessary hours and he needs to attend the press conference to announce his musical development in the States within the next few days. Disappointed, An-na ignores Choong-ui’s pleas for explanation.

At Choong-ui’s media conference, he comes clean on his initial selfish intent on completing the volunteer work and pleads for a second chance, for himself and Immortal Bird. He asks his fans and the media to attend an impromptu charity concert the next evening at the hospice. Choong-ui’s manager is displeased, but has no choice but to help organise the event.

rock9Choong-ui’s fans, the media and family members of the hospice’s patients streamed in for the performance that evening. Before the band starts, there is a short video presentation of the band members of Immortal Bird. Each member introduces themselves and kinda uses the video as a parting message to their loved ones and families (yeah, the tear jerker bits). Moo-sung and Ha-eun’s videoclips are extremely poignant. Cos Moo-sung died that afternoon, unable to make it to witness the performance of Immortal Bird. As for Ha-eun, she shows maturity beyond her years, telling her parents she loves them and to stay strong for each other when she is no longer around. She also apologises to her mum for resisting further chemos, explaining that she feels happier this way.

After all the sniffles, the band performs. And of course, it is a roaring success (what else would you expect..?). The hospice receives much media attention…and fundings to keep operations going.

The ending of the movie shows Choong-ui’s group pic with the band members…for this and many years to come. As the camera pans over, we notice he is the only constant in the pictures. His band members change in virtually every single pic.

Review:

rock8A simple, predictable enough story. Although the hospice’s patients are erm…looking TOO healthy to be beliveably ill. Other than Moo-sung (and another old granny), we don’t witness much death or pain in the movie to make us feel really uncomfortable. Which is ok, since the movie is not really about Death, but Life.

Maybe it is juz me, but I think Hong-ki’s portrayal of Choong-ui is pretty 2 dimensional. Ok, maybe it’s unfair to him…since Choong-ui as a character is 2D in the first place. There is no need for nuances and grey areas in the portrayal of Choong-ui. The audience will expect the naughty boy (with issues) to become a nice boy (with resolved issues) by the end of the 90mins. In addition, Hong-ki himself probably identifies with the restlessness of Choong-ui (as we can see from his behaviour in Global WGM) and thus finds it natural (and easy) to portray the playful idol star.

That aside, Rockin’ is a pretty above average show, which you can catch (or download). The storyline is heartwarming even though it sells the cliche of “living Life to the fullest” (even if you are near death). And of course, the music and Hong-ki’s voice are nice.

3.5/5 stars

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