A Ktown find, I’d been excited to see Project 577 for a while because, as you know, I’m a huge fan of Gong Hyo Jin. So when I was frantically trying to think of a movie to ask for (in order to talk to the cute Korean guy at the counter) this is what I came up with.
I watched with Cherry Cordial on one of our movie nights and, as we finished I was all, “huh, well that was interesting.” but as I thought more about it 1) the experience didn’t make sense and 2) it made me a little angry.
But I’m ahead of myself. Lets start from the beginning. Project 577 began when Ha Jung Woo won a second consecutive PaekSang Arts Award. Before his win was announced, when asked what he would do if he won, he said he would walk across Korea. Well, he won, and Project 577 was born. Ha Jung Woo and a group of people would walk across the length of South Korea (in total 577 km). His biggest get as a castmate was his former co-star Gong Hyo Jin. The film crews, traffic wavers, luggage cars, and medical crew followed this rag-tag group on their travels.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast. Let’s start out with the rag-tag group of walkers who are essentially our cast. We know that they actually are a cast as we got to see part of the casting process. I don’t know why they had to cast people, going into it I’d just assumed it was a group of people he’d harranged into joining him.
And it’s never really explained to the audience why they decided to go this way but because we see the casting process and are told that they only get paid for as many days as they complete, we are given no illusion that this is real.
It makes me wonder what the point was of the whole project? Was it even an offhand comment Ha Jung Woo made? Was this one of the awards where they knew who won ahead of time? Were the plans for this project in place when he made his ‘offhand’ remark? I don’t think we’ll ever know. The audience is let in on the set up–but only too a point. The rest of it we’re required to figure out on our own or to just sit back and enjoy the ride–but how can we when we’re not even sure why we’re here? When we’re not even sure what is real and what is fake?
After casting is complete we’re introduced to the cast which includes random actors (including that guy from Answer Me 1994), performers, comedians, out of work wannabe actors, and a beauty queen. We even get:
A villain in a headstrong girl who trash talks the production team, Gong Hyo Jin, gets drunk and almost gets kicked out, and snores. (The snoring is actually a plot point in the movie.)
An underdog. An unemployed actor, supported by his parents in the country who just want him to follow his dream no matter what the cost. He is determined to finish the walk in order to prove to himself and his parents that he is not a screw up.
A romance. Well, just a crush the beauty queen, who is one of the nicest members of the team, has on one of the other walkers.
So now that we’ve met our crew the trek begins, but not before we’re informed of schedule and what is expected of the walkers. There is a strict pace and a strict set of medical guidelines. It basically all boils down to the push of the movie being the questions, who will make it? How many will be forced to turn back? Who will be permanently lamed by pushing too hard?
As every day went by and the injury count ticked up we wondered is this going to be the first person to go? Even the cast wondered each day–how many will drop out today? (Spoiler–no one and zero.)
It wasn’t all just walky-walky-walky–during the off hours the cast goofed off creating skits, bitching about snoring girl, and eating. One of the more funny parts were the gratuitous commercial breaks when the various cast members would make off the cuff commercials for sponsors.
But again, looking back at these commercials added to the real/not real element of the movie.
I’m not saying we didn’t enjoy ourselves, we did (right Cherry?). There were funny parts, especially scenes when they kept leaving people who had the misfortune to fall asleep at lunch behind, forcing them to run to catch up with the group.
Laughter good. However, what I most resent about this movie were the tears I gave it.
Attention: Where I am headed is a major super duper spoiler so if you want to watch Project 577 unspoiled STOP HERE.
As I was saying, we came to care for these characters and when our people became injured, we worried for them. At what would be the third act, some of the cast decided to play a joke on our underdog filling the bitchy girl’s backpack with rocks (miraculously everyone forgetting for the moment that they previously didn’t get along with her.) then having the unsuspecting underdog offer to carry her back for her.
Everyone laughed around him and promised the cameras they would let him in on the joke when they reached the lunch stop–however–jokes on them. Underdog, and his bad knees, made it only part way there before he was on the ground crying in pain. Oh no, not Underdog! Finishing meant so much to him–feeling that his whole self worth was wrapped up in him just finishing this trek. So after the appropriate montages of his pitiful story, we see him refusing to stop, refusing medical attention. The rest of the team who were in on the joke where wrecked, feeling awful that they’d caused physical harm to someone over a practical joke. They begged the director, yep there was a director there the whole time, that, since this was their fault, to allow a breach in the rules. Let Underdog go to the hospital, get help, while they kept walking, and when he got released later that day, they’d all come back and walk with him. Though they got permission, Underdog refused to go or to understand and finally the director took him into a waiting ambulance to talk it out.
Everyone who was in on the joke was crying, the man was crying, and when we watched, Cherry and I were crying. (Or I should say Cherry was respectfully tearing up and I was full-on bawling.)
So color us surprised when, he comes into the restaurant to tell everyone he’s leaving, he throws down his crutches and proceeds to do a little dance.
A joke on the jokesters.
We saw a snippet of he and the director in the ambulance coming up with the plan–and the cast couldn’t believe they’d fallen for it.
But, the more I thought about it, something didn’t ring true for me. At what point did this become a joke? If we were to believe what we were shown in the movie it would be with the director in the ambulance. But we’d seen him hurt himself before that. The way he acted after the reveal was as if he’d never been hurt at all and all those people believed him. The looks on their faces…
The looks on their faces couldn’t be faked, right? Except they’d filled this cast with actors, actors whose job it is to make us believe untruths.
Could it be that this joke wasn’t a joke on the other cast but on the audience themselves? They tally of people who gave up, despite the build up was zero. Could it be that the director and production decided they needed something big for the end of the third act? The climax of the movie?
I hate to be a pessimist but I truly think this is the case and that’s where I take offence. I feel like we, the audience, were played by everyone–that my tears were a waste and that, in turn, deepens my distrust for the entire experience.
Did we learn anything from the movie? As, at the wasted effort trying to figure out what was going on, learning the characters, so many characters that you never really get to bond with any of them never get past the surface of any of anyone or any scene. We walked, we ate, we slept. Rinse. Repeat.
And anyone we did have a chance with, we’re left wondering what was real and what was just acting?
Even the end of the movie, when every single character makes it to the other end of Korea, looking at the sea, it was ended in such a way that there was no scene of ‘Woohoo! We made it’ There was no climax, no real ending.
Were friendships forged? Will any of the cast see each other after filming this experience? I’d like to say yes, but as I said, we weren’t allowed in enough to be able to say for sure.
Did this movie even have a point? A POV? I don’t think so and that just seems like bad form. I’m not even sure where I could point out where it went wrong. Did it start out with a bad idea? Well, it was a muddled idea. Was it in the execution? Definitely. Would I recommend this to anyone? I’m gonna have to go with no. Even my love for Gong Hyo Jin (why was she even there??) didn’t make it through unscathed.
And that’s just sad.