Sleaze for Social Justice

Somebody on the internet referred to this 1996 South Korean film as “Korean style UHF with sexiness.” It’s more like “sexy UHF-like paean to media piracy,” but – and I write this as though anybody would read past “sexy UHF” – that is fundamentally wrong description, as Channel 69 (Lee Jeong-kuk, 1996) has little in common with Weird Al’s film opus besides amateur filming being key to the film’s premise.

The film starts with a young lady auditioning for a modeling job, using her film test to launch into a diatribe against actresses who want good roles while expecting to keep their modesty intact. She’s Cho Minhee, but she goes by “Super Mini.” When one of the expectant producers treats her to dinner and invites her for a post-audition interview on the casting couch, she hurts him off-camera, storming out of the restaurant with him in pursuit. Another patron trips him, takes Minhee’s business card, and proceeds about his business.

He’s Koo Je-ha, a former television journalist and expert computer hacker, who now works as something of a civilian detective, illegally acquiring hidden camera footage of corrupt politicians for an equally corrupt prosecutor. He had previously tried to cover the illegal fundraising tactics of political hopeful Yoo Chang Min, but now he’s taking illicit footage of his illicit affair with his secretary.

While the prosecutor is uninterested in Je-ha’s vendetta against Yoo, he does want to hire Je-ha to find the programmer of a computer virus, The Dark Messiah. He shows Je-ha the virus on his computer, which shows clips of Minhee’s screen test set to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus before murdering the infected computer system. Recognizing Minhee from the business card he picked up in the restaurant, Je-ha finds and recruits her in his hunt for the creator of The Dark Messiah.

When Je-ha and Minhee find The Dark Messiah, he turns out to be a middle school drop-out named Koo Seokki, a young guy with a poodle named Handel, a plan for making pornographic video games, and a huge crush on Sharon Stone. He turns down what he thinks is a proposition from Minhee, saying that he’ll only lose his virginity to Sharon Stone via cybersex. He has two assistants, Yong Jontae and Im Saengko, a dancing electrical engineer and sound engineer, respectively, who seem to be in a relationship, neither of whom made it in college.

In keeping with the film’s cynicism about political figures and those who consort with them, the prosecutor who dispatched Je-ha plans to take credit for the apprehension of The Dark Messiah. Je-ha takes offense to this, and since he has nothing to lose, decides to aid and abet the hacker and his crew. Now an accessory to Seokki’s crimes, Je-ha devises a plan that utilizes everybody’s skills and gives everybody what they want: Channel 69.

Je-ha plans to interrupt the newscast from NBS, the station he used to work for, with his own, which will be anchored by Minhee, who he dubs the PJ, short for “porn jockey.” This allows Seokki to broadcast porn, which is his only ambition. Minhee gets to work off her exhibitionist tendencies and become famous, which is her only ambition. Im gets to broadcast the music he composes, which is his only ambition. And Yong gets to put his engineering training to use in the creation of a mobile pirate TV studio. If this is his ambition, the script never makes it clear. I think he’s along for the ride so that he can hang out with Im, cutting his hair and sleeping with his head in Im’s lap.

And Je-ha finally gets to expose the corrupt Yoo. That he gets to show up his ex-girlfriend, an anchor on NBS news, is just the icing on his cake.

As with any worthy ribald comedies, there’s more to see in Channel 69 than butt and boobies. The script is actually pretty smart, even subtle with its characterization, dropping subtle hints about Je-ha’s feelings for Minhee. And a little line implies that Minhee, in spite of her exhibitionism, is more innocent than she lets on. While the characters initially come off as broad stereotypes – Minhee is a ditz, Im and Yong are gay, Soekki is a pathetic nerd -- they’re endearingly stereotypes, and the film is non-judgmental. Except when it comes to politicians, and rightly so.

I also like Channel 69 for all sorts of Meta reasons. Low-brow, ‘90’s era Korean film is underrepresented on subtitled DVD, and that’s not even begun to change. There’s a certain charm to seeing all of the IBM logos, and the silly hacking sequences that might have been more convincing back when the internet was not something that everybody had to use daily. It looks a lot like the fantasy I had of computer hackers when I was a little kid, mucking about on my dad’s DOS based IBM in the early nineties.

More importantly, the movie is funny. And sexy. That politicians, the only people in the world I hate more than lawyers, get thematically broadsided sweetens the deal. As do female nudity and punny humor. It's not a great movie, and it is pretty slight, but it is also simple, good fun.

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