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Length: 94 minutes
Cast: Chanyeol, Jo Dal Hwan
Director: Yang Jung Woong
Language: Korean with English and Chinese subtitles
Release: In theatres 1 April 2021 (Singapore)
Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
As K-pop idol group Exo gears up to commemorate the ninth anniversary of their debut with a music video, it comes as a very pleasant surprise when Exo’s rapper Chanyeol fronts for the very first time as a lead in a Korean movie.
Considering that he has never had any acting stints either on the silver or small screen, I approached The Box with a certain amount of curiosity mixed with trepidation. The film did top South Korea’s box office on its day of release.
In The Box, Ji Hoon (Chanyeol), an aspiring and very talented baritone guitarist, dreams of performing on the big stages of Korea. Except that he has one huge problem – uncontrollable and intensely crippling stage fright, a result of childhood trauma.
By chance, Ji Hoon meets Min Soo, a producer and manager who has produced star acts but has now fallen on hard times, played by veteran actor Jo Dal Hwan. Dal Hwan quickly figures that Ji Hoon could be the next big thing, and also possibly be the solution to his crushing mountain of debt.
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It was rather cute to watch the duo traverse the entirety of South Korea and its different cities, trying to overcome Ji Hoon’s stage fright by putting him in a cardboard box with holes. Much credit goes to Yang Jung Woong, who is also debuting as a director of his very first movie, having generally directed musicals and stage plays.
But his experience in music direction really shines through as he challenges Chanyeol (who is a rapper) to sing pieces like Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’, Coldplay’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ and Mariah Carey’s ‘Without You’.
Aside from the beautifully rendered vocals and acoustics, the story was heart-warming and showed off a very different side to Chanyeol; his cuteness, introversion and most vulnerable moments were laid bare to the camera as he completely immersed himself into Ji Hoon’s character.
Jo Dal Hwan also showed off his inimitable irascibility as Ji Hoon’s jaded manager, wrestling with a dented confidence of an idol manager who lost his biggest star and having to live with his elderly mother.
The veteran displayed great chemistry with his 28-year-old co-star, acting as a mentor, father figure and persistent guide to the youngster amidst the gritty and hard-nosed underground music scene in South Korea; all the while coming to terms with Ji Hoon’s inability to perform without his cardboard box, and wondering if the both of them will be able to leave the box that is a metaphor of their life’s circumstances.