In some countries, karaoke is looked down on, largely due to the red light districts they are mostly found in (and the activities that therefore often happen therein). On the other hand, it is a perfectly respectable pastime for families and co-workers in Korea. However, one struggling parlor will profitably re-establish karaoke’s naughtiness. Unfortunately, this will attract the attention of a serial killer in Kim Sang-chan’s Karaoke Crazies, which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Sung-wook’s provincial karaoke palace was built specifically to service a large factory. When it closed, business plummeted, but the suicidal Sung-wook hardly cares. He is too busy torturing himself and listening to (but not watching) hardcore dirty movies. In a half-hearted attempt to fend off creditors, he posts a sign for a singing helper. The obviously damaged Ha-suck applies. Frankly, she can’t sing a note, but she knows how to keep customers from complaining. Sung-wook pretends not to notice, until it just reaches a ridiculous level.
Such unprofessional behavior scandalizes Na-ju. She is a real deal singer’s assistant, who arrives like the wind to turn Sung-wook’s parlor around. Soon she is holding court in the “loud room” with respectable clients, while Ha-suck services the pervs in the “quiet room.” Of course, there is considerable crossover between their clientele. Sung-wook even hires the deaf homeless man apparently suffering from acute PSTD whom he found secretly living in the store room. The Karaoke parlor starts to function as going concern, with a bizarre sense of family. Yet, those ominous reports of the serial killer stalking the region will clearly amount to something in the third act.
K Crazies is the sort of film that you might call quirky if quirkiness didn’t have such a bad reputation. Perhaps the closest comparison would be some of the Coen Brothers films—think of a blending of Barton Fink and Fargo, with maybe a dab of Lebowski dolloped on top. It covers pretty much the entire emotional spectrum from laughs to tears to fears, yet you can never feel Kim Sang-chan switching gears.
As Na-ju. Kim Na-mi doesn’t just crank up the sex appeal. She also really knocks the wind out of viewers with a shockingly human and humane turn. Likewise, Bae So-eun is deeply compelling as the recovering Ha-suck. Lee Moon-sik ably holds it all together and directs traffic as Sung-wook, the world-weary everyman. It is not often that viewers engage with a genre film on such a personal level, but the ensemble truly pulls us in.
By the time K Crazies wraps up, you will feel like you went through a lot with the four primary characters and that you know every inch of the karaoke parlor by heart. Darkly stylish but also mature and forgiving, it really packs a punch. Very highly recommended, Karaoke Crazies should have a long festival life (including London’s FrightFest), after screening at this year’s Fantasia.