[movie review][spoiler-ish] Breaking it down: R2B Return to Base at the AMC Colonial 18 in Atlanta.

Written by: Stephe Thornton, media blog Managing Editor, Cloud USA Co-Founder 

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Firstly, I’d like to give heartfelt thanks to CJ Entertainment America for inviting Cloud USA to the special preview press screening of R2B: Return to Base at the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles, back on August 22.

Receiving the invitation and being represented there was an honor for us. CJ’s diligence in promoting R2B to North American movie-goers has been and continues to be a pleasant surprise that we’ll always appreciate and never forget.

Back in the summer, while R2B fan promotions in Asia were going like gangbusters, all fans could do on this side of the ocean was watch the festivities from afar, and wish, until lo and behold, CJE America came to the rescue with news, social media, and communication about the movie. North American fans even participated in contests and won prizes. What a magical time. Thank you, CJ.

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Secondly, I’d like to thank our AMC Theater in the suburb of Lawrenceville for being a venue not only for R2B, but for all of the Korean movies that CJ produces and sends to the States. General manager Kjel Nore and staff are always helpful and gracious, and it’s really nice having a set place to marinate in the many facets of Korean culture in film.

As a novelist and longtime fiction focus group member, I’m led to critique movies just as I would any manuscript or screenplay. So let’s get started.

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Opening Setup

Excellent. Talk about getting right into the action and the meat of the problem—talented pilot TaeHoon’s (Jung JiHoon, a.k.a. Rain) dangerous, cocky ways in the cockpit of a fighter jet. You weren’t even five minutes into the story when he was unceremoniously dumped from the prestigious Black Eagles aerobatic team and shipped off to a combat squad. His crime: performing (gleefully) a banned maneuver that could very well have killed him or someone attending the air show.

The aerial sequences here and throughout the film were breathtaking, and reminded me a lot of how Director Shin SangOk’s original Red Muffler/Red Scarf (1964) opened up as well, with a batch of rookie jet fighter pilots winging their way to their new squadron, and rebellious pilot TaeBong getting his butt scorched by the boss for dangerously breaking the rules before fifteen minutes had passed. R2B’s opening did exactly what it was supposed to do – establish the main character’s extraordinary flying skill, his defining flaw, what he responded to, and how he related to the team mates around him.

Characterization

Houston, we have a problem. As an ensemble film like Red Muffler before it, R2B has a cast of actors who are all well established in the industry and more than capable of making their characters stand out. As far as I’m concerned, they did just that with the limited airtime they each had. In addition to our rebellious maverick captain, I had a beloved single dad, a proactive pilot with her heart on her sleeve, an officer who carried tragic guilt into every flight, a mechanic denied her heart’s desire by fate, and an orphaned rookie searching for somewhere meaningful to belong. We knew why these soldiers acted the way they did, and I cared for them. Unfortunately, they also made the one problem I had with this movie quite glaring.

Low-altitude expert Captain TaeHoon (Rain) is a caring individual who looks out for those who can’t look out for themselves, but he also has an off-switch that makes him incredibly dangerous, the loosest of loose cannons, an impulsive “child” who stares death in the face as if it were ham and cheese and he was making a sandwich. And yet we never find out what made him that way.

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2012 - R2B (still 2)

Pilots naturally are thrill seekers, but TaeHoon is a special breed of daredevil whose actions speak volumes about a deep-seeded issue we’re never introduced to. The picture in his room of him and his grandmother at his graduation, and their one phone call, tells us he is her pride and joy and that he loves her dearly. And that she doesn’t care for jet fighters. That is all we get. Something is driving him to be the best, to be the troublemaker, to take risks that other pilots don’t. Or, he simply could have been born that way, but darned if we’re told one way or the other.

To Rain’s credit, he has the acting chops to make you care about TaeHoon regardless. He made his character change and grow beautifully during his story arc, and the transformation endeared TaeHoon that much more to you. How much more powerful would it have been, knowing where the guy was mentally coming from?

Because of the many scenes that we saw in released clips and production stills but that didn’t make it into the movie, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that TaeHoon’s past characterization might have ended up on the cutting room floor. I could be wrong. I sincerely hope I’m not.

Plot

Fun and exciting. Take a talented but unpredictable pilot and his team, stir in how his presence affects the lives of the soldiers around him, add what happens when he finds someone who changes his perspective, throw in a dash of comedy, a pinch of tragedy, a dollop of danger and suspense from a dangerous rogue regime, cover it all with a seven-minute mission to save his country and the world from all-out war, and bake for just under two hours. There you go.

I attended several showings to gauge movie-goers reactions, and because I enjoyed the movie and wanted to see it again. The audience always laughed at the comedic parts, seemed properly somber during the tragic parts, stayed on the ride until the very end and had good things to say afterwards.

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Tension

Good and plenty. The general tension, of course, came from the North Korean threat. The local tension came anytime TaeHoon took his F-15 up in the air. You wanted to watch him because he was so good, but you were afraid to watch him because there was no telling what mayhem he might cause. Supplemental tension came from the everyday life – will YuJin accept DaeSeo’s proposal? Would SeokHyun pass out during another practice run? When are TaeHoon and the Major finally going to come to blows? Which will come first – TaeHoon finally getting a date, or being thrown in the brig on charges?

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The confrontation in the skies over Seoul, with the MiG chasing the Major and Rain’s character chasing the MiG in a wounded plane, was insane goodness. The final mission, from start to finish, had me on the edge of my seat because in Korean film, it is my experience that you seldom get the ending you expect or want. It is a total crap shoot where, a lot of the time, main characters go the way of Redshirts on classic Star Trek – they do not make it.

Point of View

Great. Everyone did and said what you would expect them to, without wandering out of character. The scenes got straight to the point with nothing extraneous in them and then moved on, unlike most Hollywood fare that, in my opinion, contains scads of filler. If scenes felt abrupt to some, it’s simply what I call nice, tight writing without anything unnecessary bogging it down – normal Korean fare. They get in, and they get out. (Hollywood could learn a thing or two about that.) The few times I felt an odd transition was, as I said before, probably from something being left on the cutting room floor, I’ll bet.

A really nice touch: Picture this if you will… At the beginning of the film, TaeHoon lights a cigarette and takes a drag as SeYoung flies through the sky in her glider. He then immediately tosses the cigarette to the ground and goes after her on his motorcycle. Further into the film, the rogue regime leader lights a cigar and takes a drag as a missile flies through the sky and assassinates his boss in a helicopter. He then immediately tosses the cigar to the ground and walks into his HQ to continue his coup. It was like the point in both characters’ lives when they began, in a similar way, to walk the path that would not be reversed. Well done, Director Kim.

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Another nice touch was how a theme of mechanical birds and real birds came together and overlapped occasionally. For instance, two comedic characters were being disciplined while two F-15s circled lazily in the air some distance away – a very cool shot. And the Flying V that kept SeYoung’s glider company on her date with TaeHoon. It reminded me that though the planes weren’t flesh-and-blood alive, the people inside them certainly were.

Random Points

Kisses on the cutting room floor. When Shin SeKyung revealed in an interview that her two kissing scenes with Rain would most likely be taken out of the film, a collective sigh of frustration was heard from Rain’s fans around the world. (Yes, that would be me as well. Terri too, but she won’t admit it.) I must say, however, that this one…

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…did indeed need to be cut out, as enjoyable as it would have been to watch. “SeYoung” definitely was not ready for that at that point in the relationship. No way. It would have felt gratuitous and unnatural. The director’s final cut actually advanced their characterization, was perfectly cute and funny, and gave me and the audience a great laugh.

When it comes to this one…

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…it should have stayed in the movie. Several scenes earlier, it was obvious that they were both ready for that one and deserved it.

Necessary time off the tarmac. What we did see of the pilots’ personal lives was needed. These people knew they were living on borrowed time and it was necessary to know what was most important to them, the things that kept the pilots going. Without that, you can’t identify, celebrate, or mourn with them and the movie turns into a documentary.

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Rebel pilot TaeBong and the object of his affection, JeeSun, in 1964.

Red Muffler wasn’t only about the missions, but about the pilots’ lives, loves, and deaths, and so R2B tried to do the same. I really wish the R2B bar scenes hadn’t ended up cut out, because that’s where everybody congregated in Red Muffler, and some of the best character-building came straight from there – in the bar.

Not much face time. Film Red Muffler was made during a dangerous time, early in the armistice after the Korean War, and during his career, the outspoken Director Shin had his share of tangles with the authorities in the North and the South. Just as he kept the Northern enemy nebulous for the most part (very little face time, running figures seen from afar), Director Kim seems to follow the same tact with R2B, and that’s probably a good thing. In real life, the North and South are still technically at war, and the North isn’t exactly spreading the love right now. A documentary is one thing, but I know I wouldn’t want to release a film for entertainment and end up responsible for renewed aggressions.

Something like that sounds glorious on paper and in the annals of history, but in reality… not.

Bottom Line

R2B: Return to Base, a glimpse into the lives of fictional R.O.K. Air Force pilots, was worth my money. Wherever you are in the world, when it comes to your town, go see it. When the DVD hits, go buy it. The to-die-for aerials and dogfights are must-see, and the drama on the ground flavors the soup. It’s a big ball of entertainment that should not be being compared to Hollywood’s Top Gun (just as fifty years ago Red Muffler couldn’t escape being compared to U.S.-made The Bridges at Toko-Ri).

This Korean-made nod to Red Muffler, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, was simply to give Korean movie-goers something they didn’t have – a contemporary fighter pilot movie of their own. That’s it. That’s ALL. Its purpose was to entertain, and unless you’re unbelievably jaded or expecting something the movie never claimed to be, it does.

— Stephe @cloudusa.wordpress.com ^@@^ / CloudUSA.org

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~ by Cloud USA on December 10, 2012.

9 Responses to “[movie review][spoiler-ish] Breaking it down: R2B Return to Base at the AMC Colonial 18 in Atlanta.”

  1. Oh, I had to read it, after seeing the post on FB 🙂 Love your reviews and respect you as a true professional… enjoyed reading it. And you were true about the kiss scene 😉 Thanks for your great job for Rain, always!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “When Shin SeKyung revealed in an interview that her two kissing scenes with Rain would most likely be taken out of the film, a collective sigh of frustration was heard from Rain’s fans around the world. (Yes, that would be me as well. Terri too, but she won’t admit it.)”

    LOL. Well, when you’re right you’re right, chingu. 😛

    Terri :-}

    Like

  3. Firstly, I’d like to say thank you miss Stephe for writing such Great and thorough review and I can’t say I disagree with any of it. I will say however, the only part of your review I can comment on is the part where I wholeheartedly agree and that is for the TaeHoon character to be SUCH a daredevil you get zero….zilch…nil….’nutin about the characters’ personal history. Nobody is that “out of control” (out of control in a funny, silly, wanna have fun, take crazy chances kinda way) without cause. That irked me a bit. Also, at times the movie did seem choppy as hell, but I’m glad to see your perspective as to why. I could logically deduce that certain scenes had probably been cut out, but you gave reasons as to the why. So, I appreciate that.

    I, unfortunately, was only able to see the movie once so I’m not able to give a more in depth perspective. All in all, I’d say I was glad I made the 4 hour trek to see the movie and if for nothing but to meet two of my fellow Cloud sisters who have since become my FB pals and that part of the experience I love most of all. Will I drive another 4 hours to see a movie, at this point two words come to mind. I’ll say if Bi is in the movie…..maybe….if not…..you know the two words of which I’m thinking on. *SMILES*

    I saw another CJ production (Masquerade) in my hometown shortly after R2B and thoroughly enjoyed the movie AND the fact that I didn’t have to drive 4 hours. However, I think as big as Houston is and even with a large enough Asian population to warrant Asian foreign films coming here, not enough people came to see Masquerade. I guess this is why the next production I want to see (A Werewolf Boy) is not coming here. So yes Stephe, Houston DOES have a problem! *SMILES*

    Like

    • What? Werewolf Boy isn’t coming there? Drats! 😦

      Stephe ^@@^

      Like

      • Nope, I only see the Dallas theater listed. It sucks but it’s business, if people don’t come to the movies you Do send, then I get why they wouldn’t put another one there. But it would help if they did at least Some local advertising.

        I’ll tell you this too. The theater they put Masquerade at in Houston was not located in the affluent suburbs like the theater in Dallas. It’s an AMC location that would attract more so “boys in da hood” than “the brady bunch”…….just saying. That’s also a factor. Even though the affluent Galleria mall is located fairly near. The theater is further down and surrounded by apartment complexes and……yeah. That’s that.

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  4. Reblogged this on walking through the rain and commented:
    I would to see the movie.

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on christina27b.

    Like

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