My notes on Karaoke Crazies
The first surprise about the Korean film Karaoke Crazies is that it features relatively little music and is, in fact, deceptively quiet. At first, this is because no one comes to the drab, seedy Addiction Karaoke Bar where the bulk of the film takes place … but as a small group of oddballs form a fractured family of the bereaved, it’s because some of the wilder action takes place (mostly behind the door) in the so-called quiet room, where tracksuited ‘helper’ (a hostess who is supposed to duet with the customers) Ha-suck (Bae So-eun), who admits she can’t sing or dance, gives oral relief to customers, as quickly as possible so she can get back to computer gaming. As if she weren’t unlikely enough as an employee, the next stray taken in by manager Sung-wook (Lee Moon-sik) is a deaf and dumb guy nicknamed the Mole (Bang Jun-ho) who has been sleeping in an unused storeroom. The fact that the Mole can’t hear screams – while Sung-Wook is always listening to porn movies through headphones and Ha-suck is plugged online – turns out to be crucial in a tragic, late-in-the-film turn that also plays with the absurd notion of a silent karaoke bar.
All of these characters have hidden in the bar after losses – of family, of reputation – and spiral further, until the arrival of perky Na-ju (Kim Na-mi), whose backstory is just as tragic but who is determined to infuse the place with the karaoke spirit. A running joke policeman pops in every so often to mention a serial killer who has been preying on sex workers and karaoke helpers – which, of course, sets up a turn into the horrific when a bandaged man arrives, seeking a private session with one of the helpers. Directed by Kim Sang-chan (Highway Star) and scripted by Park Ji-hong, this feels for much of its length like an Ealing or off-Ealing comedy from the 1950s – it’s close in plot to The Smallest Show on Earth, about loveable eccentrics running a fleapit cinema – but the threat of the murderer who eventually shows up and the tactful revelations of the truly appalling things that have brought these people to this place betray a much, much darker sensibility. It’s full of deadpan non sequitur gags – Sung-wook is so lethargic that he can’t even get it together to mount a real suicide attempt – and wry exchanges between broken characters who eventually get over their shrugging and express feeling for each other. At once sweet and sinister, this is well worth seeking out.