'Sunset in My Hometown'

Hak-soo lives in a cheap, one-person room in Seoul juggling multiple part-time jobs. He is an aspiring rapper who makes his sixth attempt at finding fame through a TV audition show. Though he is already an independent musician with his own fan base in Seoul's youth hotspot, the Hongdae area, he seeks a higher stature.

In a moment of extreme stress after being passed over again in the show's final preliminary round, Hak-soo, played by Park Jung-min, receives an unexpected call from his hometown of Byeonsan on the west coast. He is told that his long-estranged father has been hospitalized after suffering a stroke.

He reluctantly heads for home and encounters all the people from his past that he doesn't want to remember. Among them are his father (played by Jang Hang-seon) who doesn't seem to be seriously ill, Seon-mi (played by Kim Go-eun), a high school classmate who had a crush on Hak-soo, his first love, Mi-kyung (played by Shin Hyun-bin), high school senior Won-joon (played by Kim Joon-hwan) who debuted as a poet with a poem he stole from Hak-soo. There also is Yong-dae (played by Ko Joon), who became a gangster boss even though he was bullied by Hak-soo when he was young.

And then Hak-soo gets caught up in a spate of unexpected incidents and gets stranded for a while in the town.

A still from "Sunset in My Hometown" 

Before watching the movie, I expected it might be the same kind of movie as "Little Forest," a Korean film about a young woman who moves back to her childhood farming village in the countryside to escape the hardships and disappointments of city life. In the film, director Yim Soon-rye posits that young people should find simple pleasures in life rather than struggling to pursue worldly success.

But director Lee Joon-ik's "Sunset in My Hometown" takes a different path. His message is very simple and clear: In the face of fear one must face it rather than avoid it.

He seems to know exactly why the protagonist repeatedly fails in the final preliminary round. He says it is fear, anxiety and lack of self-confidence.

A still from "Sunset in My Hometown" 

In his hometown, Hak-soo comes to square off with his own entangled problems, including his hatred of his irresponsible father and hostility toward society, whether he wants to or not. Learning who he really is, Hak-soo takes a step forward and matures.

The director has an empathetic touch that manages to steer the film away from excessive sentimentality. This heartwarming, inspiring and humorous story about coming to terms with one's painful past makes viewers laugh and cry because of empathy for the protagonist.

Lee also has the brilliance of using Hak-soo's self-written rap songs as means of showing the young man's lonely struggle throughout the running time, like a musical film.

A still from "Sunset in My Hometown" 

Equally remarkable is actor Park Jung-min's near-perfect performance as a rapper. Park, who played a supporting role as Song Mong-kyu, a cousin of the renowned Korean poet Yoon Dong-ju in Lee's 2016 film "Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet," is now good enough to lead a film alone.

"Sunset in My Hometown" is a film that will ensure you leave the theater with a smile on your face.

I personally thank the director for letting me understand that for many young people these days, rap is another means of communicating with the world, like poems. I'm sure if Gong-gil, the king's clown in Lee's 2005 film "King and the Clown" and poet Yoon Dong-ju in "Dongju" were born in today's Korea, they would have become rappers.

"Sunset in My Hometown" is set to premiere on July 4.

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