Wet Dreams (Mongjeongki)

Korea (2002) Dir. Jung Cho-Shin

Yup it’s that kind of film. Despite American Pie flopping at the Korean box office its presence was enough to inspire a domestic take on the “gross out” comedy genre. First came Sex Is Zero in 2002 followed a month later by Wet Dreams, whether anybody asked for it or not.

Set in 1988, four classmates from an all boy’s school – Dong-Hyun (Noh Hyung-Ok), Seok-Goo (Jeon Jae-Hyeong), Sang-Min (Jeong Dae-Hun) and Young-Jae (Ahn Jae-Hong) – are experiencing that tumultuous period of life called puberty. Like many boys of that age their curiosity towards matters sexual is at a peak and handled in a typically base and callow manner.  

This is exacerbated when female trainee teacher Kim Yoo-ri (Kim Seon-ha), only a few years older than the boys themselves, arrives at the school, igniting their prurient and lustful thoughts. However, Yoo-ri has a long held crush on Gong Byung-chul (Lee Beom-soo), her former high school teacher but Mr. Gong has declared not to get involved with female students, erstwhile or otherwise.

If you are fully versed with Korean comedies then you’ll know that without fail they stick to the tried and tested formula of cramming all the humour into the first half then quietly morphing into a serious melodrama in the second. With the tawdry handling of the subject matter driving Wet Dreams, it would seem unlikely it could ever be serious and sincere.

Maybe it shouldn’t really be too much of a shock since puberty is part of growing up and a boy experiencing lust and later love is a huge part of maturing as people. Dong-Hyun is the sole members of our ribald quartet who embarks on the painful journey of finding and losing love at this formative age when he decides to treat Yoo-ri as a person and not a sex object making him the most fascinating and developed character.

Before this revelatory experience however, Dong-Hyun is just as culpable of objectifying all females and seeking education from between the (sticky) pages of adult magazines (remember this is pre-internet). If they weren’t equating female body parts with food, they were indulging in juvenile games designed to make covert physical contact with the opposite gender.

Seok-Goo was the master of this, scoring regularly through that staple deception of clumsiness, whether on a bicycle or roller skates, but was not beyond hatching elaborate schemes to get results either. Seok-Goo is also the subject of a recurring gag in which he becomes uncontrollably aroused if he hears words that sound sexual, spending a lot of his screen time doubled over in embarrassed but ecstatic agony.

With her cherubic face, naïve and trusting personality and conservative attire Yoo-ri immediately has the audience’s concern for being in harm’s way as the object of desire for horny teenage boys. The immature and salacious behaviour she’ll incur, such as the betting on how far someone can get with Yoo-ri (touching her hand, feeling her breasts, etc) creates an uncomfortable sense of victimisation since Yoo-ri is so

Unlike the US films where young female teachers are often portrayed as coquettish vamps, Yoo-ri is the epitome of gentleness and fragrance, making scenes of her class trying to peek up her dress with mirrors (and a subsequent up skirt shot) shamefully lewd and degrading. However, the boys rarely succeed and their behaviour is never vindicated as anything but a reflection of puerile juvenile minds, influenced by the sordid world around them.

Bringing things back down to earth is the unrequited love between Yoo-ri and Mr. Gong, essentially a tale of two wills. Yoo-ri may be oblivious to her pupil’s feelings towards her but she has made her own to Mr. Gong explicitly clear but he won’t bite – a rule is a rule and his moral fortitude has deemed this one non-negotiable. Even the toughest nut has to crack eventually and his defences gradually begin to weaken.

As the most sober plot thread in terms of tone and content, the overall direction of the film follows suit and the absurdities of the directionless first half make way for a more reality-based look at the frailty of human emotions. Through this tenuous love triangle we have two people who want what they can’t have while the third is the only one with the freedom to bring everything to its proper conclusion.

It’s handled quite well but rather predictably but its greatest contribution to the film is in giving the three principals a chance to expand their characters and for the actors, to get their teeth into something meatier. Noh Hyung-Ok was the right choice to chart Dong-Hyun’s foray into maturity, growing before our very eyes to the point he might actually be a suitable partner for Yoo-ri, played with effortless charm by Kim Seon-ha.

Comparisons to American Pie and its boundary pushing imitators are not accidental, right down to the infamous apple pie scene being replicated here, only with cup noodles instead! As over-praising as this may sound, the humour lacks the wit and self-awareness of American Pie thus fails to encourage laughs, just squirms of discomfort as Park Chae-Woon’s script tries too hard to emulate this style of comedy.

The coda, set in the present day with Yoo-ri now a teacher at an all girl’s school provides us with a moment that would not have been significant in the west back in 2002. Yoo-ri introduces an adult Seok-Goo, now a trainee teacher, to his lecherous teen students who treat him as the boys did Yoo-ri. Seok-Goo is now played by Park Jae-Sang. Who? Well, he is better known a PSY – aka Mr. Gangnam Style himself!!

Where American Pie failed in Korea, Wet Dreams was a huge hit that spawned a sequel (as did Sex Is Zero) which is quite a scary in itself. As a good-natured nostalgic drama this film is at its best; as a gross out teen comedy it’s something of an embarrassment that hasn’t aged well.

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2 thoughts on “Wet Dreams (Mongjeongki)

  1. Well, I guess I won’t be having that Pot Noodle for lunch after reading this review 🙂 This doesn’t sound like a movie I would enjoy. I liked American Pie back in the day, but then again I was part of the target age group in the year it was released.

    Like

    1. Confession – I not only saw American Pie in the cinema but also have the first three films on DVD… 😮

      This has actually been on my shelf for a few years now. I only dug it out as I needed a short film to watch and thought it might offer some laughs. Oh well….

      Liked by 1 person

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