I was planning to do a review on Netflix’s car flick “Seoul Vibe” because it features a lot of Rad-era South Korean car goodness we never got. It’s not a great film, but it’s worth a casual watch as an enjoyable romp through a late 1980s Seoul that I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately, there’s one big NASCAR-flavored anachronism I can’t get over.
South Korean is having a moment, with both the film “Parasite” and the TV show “Squid Game” dominating conversations recently. While they’re both different genres, each project is a reflection of the country’s creatives grappling with the impact of rapid industrialization and the resulting economic disparities. “Seoul Vibe” isn’t exactly in the same tradition, though it isn’t without some societal critique.
Set on the verge of the 1988 Seoul Olympic games, the whole nation of South Korea is coming to terms with the end of a military dictatorship and the rise of a new, democratic society. The loose plot of the film is that wheelman Park (portrayed by Yoo Ah-in) wants to race in the United States and get out of the country with his pack of friends and his sister. They get busted bringing in un-taxed Air Jordans and other goods from Saudi Arabia but the prosecutor, a noble investigator, will give them exit visas in exchange for their help in bringing down a corrupt ex-military leader (an allusion to Chun Doo-hwan) and his fixer.
The film is less influenced by the other Korean cinema of the moment than it is by “The Fast and the Furious” franchise and John Woo’s Hong Kong cinema (there’s even a big reference to “A Better Tomorrow” playing at a cinema in a scene). Most of the Woo influence can be felt in the very dark, slightly violent turn the film takes in the middle of the film (meted out by a bad guy that looks like a Korean man pretending to be Bruce Campbell pretending to be Elvis Presley, if that makes sense).
The “Fast and the Furious” influence means modified cars. Lots of modified cars. There’s a super clean first-gen Hyundai Grandeur, a modified Pony Pickup, a second-gen Sonata, and a bunch of other things I can barely recognize.
I can recommend the film as a casual, airplane-watch, but there’s one thing I cannot stand and it’s an extremely obvious anachronism. Park’s best friend is played by Ong Seong-wu and he’s charming in the role as the fun buddy character. He also gets some great outfits, including a throwback American NASCAR shirt.
That shirt? As you can see above it portrays Bill Elliott and his McDonalds car. It’s an awesome shirt and 1988, when this is set, is an awesome year for Bill Elliott because he won the Winston Cup Championship in his Coors/Motorcraft Ford Thunderbird. It’s a great idea for a shirt. But it’s extremely the wrong shirt!
What does the shirt show? It’s clearly his late ’90s McDonalds Ford Taurus. If I had to guess, it was his 1998 Ford Taurus stock car. This means that a main character in the movie is flaunting a shirt from an event that wouldn’t happen for ten years. If it was a one-off thing I could hold my nose, but the guy wears the shirt for the entire last third of the film.
So, yeah, it’s a completely fine movie, but we just expect better out of big budget projects! The 1988 Coors shirt would have been equally as cool.
Photo credits: Netflix, Hyundai, Ford