While some films have the ability to transcend over several cultures–fantasy films are especially good for this–others are only culturally significant in their place of origin. Especially when you’re watching a coming-of-age film that focuses on the challenges of adolescence to adulthood, so much of that involves our cultural expectations that it can be hard to translate.
For me, my senior year of high school was a completely contrast to a Korean student of the same age. While I got out of school at three o’clock and spent after school with friends, for Korean students school is their extracurricular activity, often having school days 16-hours long. Seriously. As I went to sit down and eat dinner with my family, Korean students are having dinner at school. What I see as normal for a certain age, other cultures may not.
Twenty and Music Across Cultures
I recently watched Twenty, a Korean film concerning three best friends who are confronted by the severing paths of adulthood. While I’m not sure I would necessarily offer it as a suggestion to a friend, it’s a decently good film with some great casting choices and very humorous moments.
The film was interesting to me because it showed a lot of cultural nuances in Korea, especially the insane standards that are expected of young people. One thing about Korean culture that has always blown my mind is the drinking culture. Drinking is so omnipresent, it can literally become part of your job.
To be invited out by someone seen as your superior, whether in school or in work, is one of the biggest compliments you can receive in Korea. It’s a way for you to show respect to your higher-up, and a way for that higher-up to show affection to you. Drinking is a big deal culturally.
Thus, when lead Gyung Jae is invited to a drink with a college sunbae (“senior”, referring to someone who has more experience), he is culturally expected to accept as her hoobae (“junior”). The hierarchy of Korean culture makes its way into everything they do.
Twenty displays a lot of cultural details like these that show how differently societies can function across the world. Included in the film are multiple mentions of the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, especially in relation to a government run system that makes you believe you’re inadequate before you event try, a view of their system of seedy “companionship” bars, as well as the confusing and turbulent world for women in Korean entertainment.
Although the film ends with another very Korean experience as the three boys are conscripted into their obligatory two year military service, the film is really about themes that we all will see in our lifetime, including the pains as we realize that adulthood often means giving up on things, whether it be love or dreams.
While I love the end credits song by band Sweet Sorrow (titled “Twenty“, like the film), I was pleasantly surprised to realize one thing that seems to transcend any cultural barriers–music. Twenty actually included two English songs, including the Australian soft rock duo Air Supply’s “Lost in Love“, but the highlight was the use of “All By Myself”.
Towards the end of the film, the three boys and their two friends are involved in a ridiculously extended fight scene to Eric Carmen’s widely known tune. This is a song that, if you speak English, I’m almost 100% certain you know it. Young, old, doesn’t matter–this song, since its release in 1975, is a musical staple that we can all recognize. The idea that this song passes into non-English-speaking film? That’s cool.
I’m going to leave the scene for you to watch below. The subtitles on it are in Vietnamese, but the gist is that a group of thugs have come demanding payment from their favorite local hangout, and the boys are spurred into action. Totally outlandish action, that is.
So, no matter how drastically different our cultures may seem, we can know a few things. One, growing up is rough no matter where you’re from. And two, none of us can deny the power of “All By Myself”.