"A.F.R.I.K.A." is the cinematic equivalent of a one night stand. Throw yourself into it, regardless of tomorrow. Have your fun and leave before the break of dawn. Keep it hidden in the back of your head as a happy memory.
Dissatisfied with their lives Ji-won and So-hyun decide to take a trip away from it all. They commission a car from Su-hyuns deadbeat boyfriend Young-bae, and he says its no trouble, he can easily borrow one.
Meanwhile a cop and a gangster are knee-deep in a poker game run amok. Theyre down to the felt, and as a last resort they bet their guns, to have one final go at the pot. Naturally they lose, and another gangster walks off with both their weapons.
Back to So-hyuns boyfriend. It turns out that his plan is just to steal a car, and when a high rolling gangster leaves his car right in front of him, Young-bae sees an opportunity. He steals the car, and so the girls have their getaway vehicle just like they wanted. Well, almost. Because it turns out that the car belonged to the very same gangster that prevailed in the poker game, and he just happened to have stashed the guns in the back seat.
When the girls initially find the weapons, they think its simply toy guns, but a shattered windshield later, they realize they are in fact holding two actual guns in their hands!
The girls are forced to abandon the car (the whole shattered glass and bullet exit hole are a little too conspicuous). As they are walking by the side of the road, theyre picked up by two men who offer them a ride. But it turns out they are really out to rape them. In sheer panic Ji-won grabs one of the guns and shoots randomly around, scaring off the two men.
Back to the gangster and the cop. By now theyve realized that their guns have made their way into the hands of whomever stole car. They set out to hunt down these devilish fiends, before anybody realize the guns are missing. The cop is growing increasingly frustrated, since his entire 20 year career is on the line if he doesnt find those guns.
Alas, theres no rest for the wicked. No sooner have the girls found a quiet diner, where they can enjoy a much needed meal, before yet another pair of guys begin to hit on them. Once again the guns will have to do the talking. The girls shoot up the place and as they make their getaway, they manage to pick up another girl, Young-Mi, who helps them escape in her car.
Young-Mi doesnt miss a beat and at the first available opportunity she grabs a gun and robs a convenience store, despite protest from to other two girls.
After robbing a cash machine in a similar manner, the girls have finally attracted so much attention that the police institute road blocks in the entire area surrounding the last crime scene.
The girls find it impossible to get away, but then they run into a clothing store girl who offers to help them, providing that shell be allowed to join the gang. They agree.
The four girls are soon known all over Korea. The group even has an name now, A.F.R.I.K.A. (which apparently stands for Adoring Four Revolutionary Idols Korean Association), and a fan website! Even copycat criminals begin to pop up everywhere (thats when you know youre really huge). The police intensify the hunt for this hapless band of outlaws, and the cop/gangster double act is also hot on their trail.
The girls continue to elude the cops as their popularity grows, but the stress of the whole thing begins to show, and the group is on the verge of breaking up. Will they make a crucial mistake and end their days behind bars or is their popularity enough to carry them safely through this crisis?
Compared to the latest (2003/2004) output of films from South Korea, its strange to revisit a film from a few years back. It seems to me that if "A.F.R.I.K.A." was made today it would have been considerably more hardcore. Instead its all very safe and nice, without any real edge or any sense of danger. But fair enough, theres room for that kind of film too. Just be warned, if you expect a Korean version of Thelma and Louise youve come to the wrong place.
The starting point for this film, is the very strict gun-laws that applies in South Korea. Often the girls dont even have to shoot to command respect, and even when they shoot they never hit anybody (which I guess is alright. The sight of bullet-riddled body, would definitely dampen the light mood).
Except for a few of these shootout scenes, there arent really any show stopping action scenes in the film, and the cinematography is also surprisingly subdued. Theres no crazy camera moves, and no shotgun editing.
The overall tone of "A.F.R.I.K.A." is light and breezy, but the film does manage to squeeze in a few serious scenes as well. This is possible only because the film never gets too crazy. Seeing these dramatic scenes (one of them, a happy dance sequence that turns to tears when the girls realize what they are really doing), were reminded of what the film could have been, if it had the guts. But "A.F.R.I.K.A." insists on backing away from anything that could become serious.
Consequently the four girls never manage to become real characters, they are reduced to simplified cardboard stereotypes (the leader, the brooding one, the goofball, the ugly duckling... you get the picture), which is kind of a shame. I would have loved it if the film had dared to sink its teeth into the background of these characters.
Ji-won, for example, mentions that her mother is never there. Shes also the one who lectures the others, and even hits them if they act too stupidly. She goes from being a lost girl without guidance, to being the one who must provide guidance for other. A very interesting change.
And take Young-Mi for example. She was apparently a hooker, bought and paid for by the owner of the diner, and shes the one who is most eager to pick up the gun, but whats her story? I wanna know more!
Theres plenty of opportunities to dig into these girls backstories, but the film shies away from any real deep characterisation.
"A.F.R.I.K.A." is a cute little film, but its uneven, and it has a lot of unexplored potential. That in itself is not offensive, its just sad.
In keeping with the films light tone, the story never turns mean and it even chickens out of the final showdown. In the end everybody sorta wins, and nobody really gets hurt.
The flawed nature of this film not withstanding, the overall mood and brisk pace works. And to be honest, it doesnt seem like the film was aiming to be any more than it is. If thats the case, I hesitate to blame the film for failing to explore certain elements, if it wasnt interested in doing so in the first place.
I enjoyed watching "A.F.R.I.K.A.", despite being almost constantly aware that it could have been better. But as the film evolved, and my mind kept building on the scenes long after the film had moved on, I started to think, maybe "A.F.R.I.K.A." should have been a drama, instead of a light comedy-action. The young actresses involved are certainly more then capable and the theres no lack of potential in the story.
Has anybody ever done a remake, and changed the whole mood of the a story in the new version? I cant recall any such case, but if somebody wanted to do that, "A.F.R.I.K.A." would be a good place to start.