It’s honestly quite a feat that Netflix’s Seoul Vibe (서울대작전/Seoul Grand Operation) could have all the pieces it needs for a great film, yet ends up being just flat and okay. An all-star ensemble cast carries the weight of a longer than necessary screenplay filled with undercooked ideas. No question the film is meant to be lighthearted and mindless fun complete with retro nostalgia with its 1980s setting. But even then, Seoul Vibe leaves a lot of potential on the table.
Park Dong Wook (Yoo Ah In) leads an amateur driving team with their own custom-car garage that features a ragtag, carefree group of friends including DJ Oh Woo Sam (Go Kyung Pyo), Bok Nam (Lee Kyu Hyung) who knows the streets of Seoul like the back of his hand, Dong Wook’s younger sister Park Yoon Hee (Park Ju Hyun) and all-around handyman Joon Ki (Ong Seung Wu).
Dong Wook has dreams of moving to the United States with his crew to pursue their fast and furious aspirations. And to help make that happen, they agree to work undercover for the prosecutors’ office to help bring down a VIP slush fund operation that has ties to the ruling dictatorship.
Working as couriers for the corrupt money laundering scheme puts their lives in a bit more danger than they are normally subjected to in their everyday happy-go-lucky lives. But their skills, cleverness and teamwork help them ultimately declare mission accomplished.
Sounds like a great premise with a great cast tasked to bring it to life. So where do things go wrong?
There’s not many surprises in this film. One could definitely describe it as predictable and even paint-by-the-numbers. On their own, those aren’t necessarily bad things. Especially when the film makes it very clear early on what it wants to be.
On one hand, the film succeeds. It doesn’t aspire to be some grand historical record. It isn’t going to be a profound condemnation of the military regime’s corruption during the 1980s, especially during the Seoul Olympics. Nor should it, really. Seoul Vibe is meant to just be a cool, slick, rollercoaster ride of action and fun.
Which is why it ends up being so strangely flat despite its clear objective. Perhaps it is because of the few moments where the film gets more dramatic and seems to skim along the surface of deeper ideas. But again, the film isn’t meant to handle those kinds of things.
Instead, the film’s focus is meant to be just watching this fun group of friends navigating through an extraordinary mission filled with dangerous action and cool, shiny cars. Unfortunately, the film is at least 30 minutes too long, if not an hour. And the unnecessary bloat contributes a lot to the film’s slow movement without adding much to the characters or the story. In fact, when the film isn’t in its moments of Fast and the Furious-style car action, not much is added to the plot or the development of these characters.
The highlight, especially with this big-name cast of popular stars, should be enjoying seeing this ragtag team bumble and luck their way out of trouble. And looking cool while doing it.
But the quieter scenes merely bridge the louder, more action-heavy sequences that end up being the movie’s lukewarm highlight instead.
The main conflict takes a while to materialize. A lot of the 2 hours and 18 minutes could be chopped off and it would still result in the same film. You could almost categorize this film as a slice of life with the way its story slowly trudges forward, yet still lacks the time necessary to even attempt to add some welcome depth to at least the main characters. Who, in spite of everything else, are endearing enough because of the likeable and charismatic cast that bring them to life.
Ultimately, it is that cast that will help drag you to the finish line and bring you to the climactic final act of the film. Which, even with some sketchy and plentiful CGI, is still an exciting and fun way to close out the movie in spite of what one had to go through to get there.
Seoul Vibe doesn’t have aspirations to be something it is not. And that is perfectly fine. But even when knowing what it wants to be, it still somehow stumbles and holds itself back from being the fun and roaring rollercoaster ride it should have been. Some tightening up, a bit more focus on its characters and it could have been a completely different and better film.