New for me
There was once a time in the early 2000's when gangster comedies were all the rage in Korean cinema. One of these many films was My Boss, My Hero, which takes a relatively novel high-concept premise and puts it together with a tonally fluctuating story that doesn't quite have it all together, but the earnestness of the effort still makes it mildly enjoyable, even if a bit problematic.
Here's the deal: mob captain Gye Dooshik (Jung Joonho) is the favored man of his boss, but he never graduated high school and is consequently looked down upon by his equal level gangster peers, so when the boss wants to hand over a new district they're aiming to control to Dooshik, he makes one stipulation, that Dooshik first return to school and graduate. But the hardened gangster Dooshik discovers that getting through high school itself can be as tough as beating down an enemy gang, dealing with hard edged teachers, bullies, and money-grubbing administrators, all while trying to keep his cover on enemy turf.
What works well in the story is the parallels drawn between Dooshik's gangster world and high school, but also some of the underlying commentary directed at those who are less educated, as everyone in the gangster world looks down upon the high school dropouts inasmuch as the scholarship students at the private school Dooshik ends up at are desperately fighting to gain higher standing in class against families who are buying their grades. I also like that Dooshik's personal journey from ambitious gangster to genuine member of the student body is portrayed.
That said, the film has some major characterization issues, especially with the English teacher (Song Sunmi), who the writer/director/actor couldn't decide if she was a charismatic hottie or a beautiful ice queen. Also, the sense of comedy in the film isn't consistent and results in some of the comedy beats falling flat. Finally, the film doesn't quite resolve its main story around the school, leaving quite a few loose ends hanging, which isn't surprising because some of the side stories, like Dooshik's quasi-love interest Yoonjoo (Oh Seungeun), are a bit haphazardly developed.
Like many films of its era, the production values are still a bit rough and so the film doesn't look quite as slick as contemporary Korean cinema and director Yoon Jaegyoon is clearly still learning on what was his first feature film. As such, the film doesn't hold a strong sense of consistency and the undeveloped tonal aspects results in the film feeling a touch thrown together. The performances are pretty agreeable and while some of the comedy parts are rather broad, like Head's (Jung Woontaek) simple-mindedness, aside from Song's English teacher, they're largely consistent and appropriate to the genre.
Still, even with all the problems that My Boss, My Hero faces, I ended up still liking the film and I think that's because the film aimed to be a little more than just another Korean gangster comedy, making some statements on the high school environment, educational status, and socioeconomic class. Plus, the main character actually undergoes some meaningful development and makes a decision. That doesn't entirely make up for the inconsistent vision for the film from first-time director Yoon, nor for the lack of follow through on some elements of the story, but it does make My Boss, My Hero some modestly enjoyable entertainment. 6/10.