Dasepo Naughty Girls (다세포 소녀) Review
In the early going it appears likely that Lee Jae-Yong's adaptation of popular online comic Dasepo Naughty Girls might just do the impossible and dethrone Yudai Tamaguchi's Cromartie High School in the absurdly hysterical high school comedy department. Shot with a candy coated color scheme and leaping from a song and dance number featuring a fetching swarm of pink clad go-go dancers to a mass exodus for the doctor's office on news that a teacher has tested positive for syphilis to clandestine video game prostitution to ... well, you get the picture. Dasepo Naughty Girls begins as a rapid fire candy fluff spin on high school life that is every bit as absurd, high energy and sketch oriented as Yamaguchi's Cromartie, only this film boasts much higher production values.
But Korea just wouldn't be Korea if its films followed their expected arcs and over the course of its run time Dasepo finds an unexpected heart, moving from full throttle comedy with fluorishes of character to an odd little character piece sprinkled liberally with bizarrely comic touches. It is a cheery, good natured bit of work considerably less Naughty than you'd expect from a film featuring liberal doses of both transvestite and transexual characters - 'saucy' would be a better description - and more than a little different than you may expect but it is, nonetheless, a very good time. I just wish those go-go dancers got more screen time.
Plot? There really isn't much, particularly in the early going. What there is is a stack of characters, each of which are given their moments in a series of comic sketches. There is the pretty, shy girl who wears her poverty as a literal monkey on her back. There is the wealthy, ridiculously over-groomed, Swiss exhcange student. There is the cyclops, his pre-op transexual sister, the supply teacher with a fondness for frilly underpants and spanking, the transvestite mob boss, the secret Eros cult, the evil principal with his secret plans to enforce virginity and good study habits, and so much more. The film skips easily from character to character, from moment to moment, pasuing only long enough to deliver the requisite punchlines before moving on to the next scene. In the early going it is essentially rapid fire sketch comedy and as with all films of the type some sketches work better than others but the overall quality is unusually high.
As the film progresses the focus gradually begins to narrow until it eventually keys on two primary characters, with forays into other territory becoming increasingly limited. The poor girl is forcibly 'adopted' by the aforementioned transvestite gangster and the two of them together subsequently kidnapped by the secret Eros cult, triggering a string of events that gradually teachour young heroine to take a degree of pride in herself. On the flip side, pretty boy Anthony, so used to having everything he wants needs to be taken down a notch or two, a task acheived by having him fall in love first with Cyclop's transexual 'sister' Double Eye and subsequently with the terminally shy impoverished girl. Yes, the situations these characters are run through are ridiculous in the extreme but Lee is smart enough to treat the characters themselves - if not the world they live in - as real people, and the performances are strong enough that they actually work, and work well, as real people dealing with real issues that do actually effect the masses in our considerably less technicolor and relatively transvestite-free world. By gradually toning down the insanity as the film progresses - though it never comes even remotely close to disappearing - Lee may back off on the humor quotient but he greatly raises the lasting value of the piece. Continuing full out may well have yielded a few more laughs but likely would have also reduced the film to a piece of disposable fluff, funny the first time but offering little on repeat viewing, but as it is there's actually a bit of meat to dig into - not a three course meal, by any stretch, but certainly a tasty little snack.
Lee's script is a smart piece of work, the humor frequently laugh out loud funny, the pretty young cast also very talented, and the whole piece edited together with a crackling sense of style and an innate understanding of when to push things along hard and fast and when the work is better served by slowing it down and letting it breathe. The sex-comedy angle is considerably less prevalent in the finished film than was suggested in the marketing materials - if you go looking for tittilation you will be disappointed - with Lee consistently choosing to mock attitudes toward sex rather than spread flesh on the screen.
On to presentation. The Korean DVD release features a completely unique and absolutely fabulous piece of packaging. Pull this thing out in public and you will draw a crowd. Both attractive and functional, the packaging is a three part design with two thick slabs of bright neon plastic on either side of a glittering double sided DVD tray. The three pieces are held together by a single bolt at the top that hlds the neon pieces in place while allowing them to pivot out of the way so the discs can be accessed. To keep the protective pieces from swinging freely the entire package is then housed in a clear plastic slip case. I've neer seen a package quite like this before and it's fantastic.
Disc one contains the feature itself, presented in an anamorphic transfer in the proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. You get 5.1 and DTS soundtracks and excellent English subtitles. The transfer is clean with excellent contrasts and colors that really pop off the screen. Disc two features the set of special features, none of which include English subtitles. There are the normal range of production interviews and behind the scenes reels but the interesting piece, even without subtitles, is the extensive collection of deleted scenes. When you have as many major characters as this film does you inevitably end up shooting a lot of material with each that doesn't make it in as the final focus emerges during the editing and there are a healthy assortment of those scenes included here, giving extended looks at a good number of characters given short duty in the film itself.