Using comedy to provoke thought about educationCan an elementary school teacher and one of her students really fight over the same man? That’s what director Jang Gyu-seong’s new film “Lovely Rivals” (Yeoseongsang vs. Yeojeja) is all about.
He describes it as a comical story of competition between a childish teacher and a mature student.
The two competitors’ beloved target is a handsome art teacher who has come to the school for the new semester. The teacher and the student struggle to get his attention, going through many funny happenings in the process.
At first glance it may appear to be a sequel to Mr. Jang’s “My Teacher Mr. Kim” (Seongsaeng Kim Bong-du), which was also set in a small, rural school.
In “Rivals,” however, Mr. Jang pushes the envelope further, not only making people laugh but using social commentary as well. Mr. Jang says his first film, “A Funny Movie” (Jaemineun Yeonghwa), inspired him to be more conscious about the substance of his work.
“You know, ‘A Funny Movie’ parodies many scenes from other movies, and was just meant to be comical,” Mr. Jang says. “But after the movie was over, I heard the audience criticizing the movie because it didn’t have any substance. I was shocked. I realized that no matter how hard the audience laughs during the movie, they look down on films that do not have a message.”
Mr. Jang may refer to himself as “just a commercial movie maker,” but it’s not only a sense of what will score at the box office that made him tackle the topic of public education.
When, as a child, he transferred from a small middle school in Gangwon province to a bigger one in Seoul, he was shocked by the way his new teacher treated the students. He said that watching the news these days leaves him very worried about the plight of public education in Korea.
When Mr. Jang made “My Teacher Mr. Kim,” he wanted to portray the tragic disappearance of small schools in the beautiful Korean countryside. But with “Lovely Rivals” he wants to show just how unqualified some teachers can be in Korea, which is attributable to the country’s unreasonable system of certifying educators.
“Even though it is just a fun movie to watch, I hope it makes people think about the problems Korean education is currently facing,” Mr. Jang said. “I use what makes me angry as material for my films, but the smarter way to show my anger is through humor.”
“Lovely Rivals” has many scenes in which characters laugh through tears. Once such scene is when teacher Yeo Mi-ok makes two students re-enact a fight so she can understand who did what wrong. It’s scenes like this that give “Lovely Rivals” its satirical flavor.
Some critics charged that the film may appear stale, simply another “teacher-student” movie, similar in substance to so many before it. Mr. Jang accepts that view.
“Audiences tend to be tired of unoriginal movies,” he said. “However, this time, funny accents and dialects were not used get laughs.” He said people are bored with those methods.
“Some people even ask why I made a film about a school again,” said Mr. Jang. “So my next work is going to be a political comedy called ‘Gunsuwa Ijang,’ through which I want to satirize contemporary Korean politics.”
“Lovely Rivals” opens today in theaters across the country.
by Ahn Hai-ri