The Tenor: Lirico Spinto 더 테너-리리코 스핀토 (2014) #KMovie Review #NowOnDVD

"The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) Korean Movie Review

 The worst and oddly ambitious train-wreck of the movie I saw in 2014!A jukebox opera musical?

 더 테너-리리코 스핀토 리뷰

One of the things you will notice when you spend time in Korea is that we spend a lot of time and effort on trying to master the language of English or more like American-ish. Billions are spend a year trying to chase the white dragon but our relationship with the language is … troubled at best.

Even though we spend that much effort with the language, a huge portions of the Korean population has a serious mental complex regarding the language. It is basically the result of trying to force English down our throats on the part of the Educational establishment. 

So, why am I talking about English when writing a review about a Korean movie? About 85% of the script of "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014)  is written in English! And this really shows!  But more about that later.

Let’s talk about the plot.

The plot
Before proceeding, it would be better to know that "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) is a movie based on so called real events. Well… you don’t really need know about this person, who was an opera singer, to dislike this movie but it helps to understand why this movie is bad. One of the purposes of making this movie was to pander to Koreans’ tribalism. 

Whether or not any of the real life events of this person’s life resembles the movie is unimportant since the plot of the movie is your generic any kind of “a talented but arrogant professional falling from grace because of Stuff and crawling back from the hole with a better view on life” story. This story has been told a hundred times on film. In recent years, this type of movie has fallen out of favor in Hollywood because of the perception that it is cheesy. However, it was big during the 80s and 90s.

In the case of "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014), the profession our protagonist occupies is being an opera singer.

Yes… opera !
Do not stop reading this review!
It is about opera but the movie in an interesting mess so do not get put off by the topic of opera!
But the movie is pretentious though.
Back to the plot, the event that ruins our protagonist’s life is losing his voice because of throat cancer. He was the super genius with a God gifted voice who won every opera competition that exists. You see where the pandering comes into play!  So, he is an arrogant ass which the movie really wants you to know this! The whole first act of the movie is set up for you to know this extremely obvious fact.

Cha Ye-Ryun

After the fall, he goes through the typical drink and brood phase you expect from this type of story while his wife looks upon him. Yes, he has a pretty and supporting wife played by Cha Ye-Ryun who you may have seen in the recent 2014 Korean drama “My Lovely Girl”. He only recovers because of some miracle medical procedure performed in Japan and slowly tries to recover his profession since his passion for singing is the only thing of value to him. And there is a friendship subplot with a Japanese opera promotor which comes into play with the miracle medical procedure.

Midnight FM (2010)

This is the plot of "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014). You do not actually need to know more about it since I think I put more effort in explaining the plot than the writer of this movie who also is the director, Kim Sang-Man . He directed the movie Midnight FM (2010) before.

The movie is not actually what you would expect it to be!
So, what is this movie?

From the description of the movie, "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) seems like a “drama” about a human interest story. The promotion for this movie in Korean would make you think that. However, you would actually be wrong!

Yes, the promotion tricked us.
Surprising yeah?

The movie is a Jukebox Opera Musical
By jukebox, I mean that the songs were not composed for this movie. By opera, I mean the songs used in this movie are opera songs. By musical, I mean “Musical” and not even operetta musical where all the dialogues are song. This is a musical where there are songs and normal dialogue in between the music numbers.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Think… Mamma Mia! (2008) or Jersey boys.
Well not the Jersey boys (2014) the movie!
Not a great example!

The problem with "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) is that it a total failure which is a similar hole occupied by the movie adaptation of  Jersey boys (2014) last year. What is different with "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) is that the approach it took was overly ambitious and the movie never really found out how to execute this ambition properly.

A jukebox opera musical
With musicals and even operas, the music pieces are not just beautiful scores. They have dialogue functions in story being told. They make it possible to compress a story into surprisingly few lines of dialogue. If this was not so, a musicals or an opera, would just be a music copncert for all intent and purposes.

The genre of jukebox musicals stretches this a lot by using well known songs to compensate for the fact that they do not really fit with the story being told. Thus, the non-music parts of the musical require more attention on the part of the creators.

But how do you apply this to jukebox opera musical?

Even though opera songs have dialogue functions in the opera, for many of us, it is just gibberish since it is either in Italian, French, or German. It is no different than hearing Hollywood movie score composers use fake Latin to sound epic and grand.

Yes, they do that!
Ah La La LAAAAAAA! Bom beo bom bea!

While, for the opera aficionados, this is the problems of philistines, for most of us “philistines” it is a problem.  "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) never solve this problem and makes the movie using a typical jukebox musical approach but with opera songs. And this does not work both in concept and execution.

The resulting product becomes this ill-fitting drama/musical hybrid with either opera rehearsals, opera performances, or weird opera-like delusions as musical set pieces. As a result, you are not totally sure what the movie actually is. I actually heard, after the screening, someone asking her friend whether this was a musical but only half as a rhetorical question.

My conclusion is that it is trying to be but fails to be a musical. You can notice that most of the important scenes are anchored by opera songs but oddly not always as musical numbers.

 I mean it is not opera song performance then drama scenes than song and repeat.
That would actually would have brought some structure into the movie.

Sometimes, especially in the latter half, the opera songs are used as scores while the characters are doing drama like mood scenes. If the movie was trying to be a musical and not a movie about music, it should have been consistent in regards to how it dealt with the music pieces.

One good thing… the only good thing about the movie is that the opera performances are pretty nice. It is like seeing a video recording of real opera performances. However, if I wanted that I would just have bought the DVD of that! This in itself does not warrant making a movie. In addition, the director is too happy with being able to place a camera within a live opera performance that it becomes over indulgent with sweeps, zooms, rotating shots. I really got irritated with the over use of Crain shots everywhere.

Yes we know you are happy that you got the budget to afford your toys.
Stop with it now!

Even with this fundamental problem with the concept of the movie, "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) would not have been my worst movie of 2014 if this was the only thing wrong with the movie. Even though I complained about the opera performance scenes, that part is the only decent thing in the movie and I mean it fails to be a movie. AND That is why "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" is a train wreck!

The script
Let’s talk about the script. It is a piece of garbage even for a typical movie of this story type. You would get a better script if you go to your local learning annex and ask bored housewife attending a creative writing class to write you a script over a weekend.

The protagonist lacks any kind of development as he essentially does not have an ark in the movie. He is just a jerk and he gets sick. He mopes and then he is better now. That is the end of the story. In many ways, it is not even clear why anyone would be interesting in watching this story on screen other than the fact it is to blatantly pander to the tribalism of the Korean audience. And it is so poorly written that it even fails at that.

The Magic Flute

In a lot of ways, it is what you would expect to get if you got your hands on the script of your typical opera… let’s say Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”  and stripped the music, the songs and the theatrically out of it.

I am going with a Mozart example because of the reference towards the review of “The Royal Tailor” I did previously.

What is left is a script that is an over-melodramatic mess that makes no sense as a cohesive story. Musicals have slightly better scripts that works better without its musical numbers but only a little.

What I wouldn’t given to watch “High school Musical” rather than watching "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto". Any of those three movies would have done the job. Compared to the script of "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto", the scripts of “High school Musical” one, two, and three are masterpieces of musical theater.

Why do you have the protagonist collapse backward during a performance and passing out with everyone looking over him just from the fact that he is noticing his voice is suddenly not coming out during a rehearsal? Isn’t that more of an expectable accident for that profession? I first though that he had a stroke or something with the brain. But, it is just throat cancer.

In addition to the basic quality of the script itself, there are a lot of structural issues with the story itself. While the basic simplicity of the story itself seems perfect for a 3 act story, "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" seems like a 4 or 5 act story. The acts are so messy in general that clearly defining the acts is not easy on first viewing and I will not suffer through a second viewing even for this review. Also the movie is almost out of the few theaters it started out with. The awkward inclusion of a Japanese subplot just makes things worse.

I did mention that there was a Japanese subplot about becoming friends with a Japanese opera promoter. It seems like a sub-plot from a totally different movie with a sub-sub plot of putting on a show with “Soul” and not focusing on commercialism with its own protagonists and supporting characters. I would actually want to see that Japanese movie. And did I say that the movie actually has relatively well-known Japanese actors in its cast?

Yûsuke Iseya
You have Yûsuke Iseya who is a writer/director/actor in movies such as 13 Assassins (2010). Also you have Kie Kitano who is a young actress who starred in Japanese dramas such as Mother at Fourteen (2006) and Nagareboshi (2010). Sadly they give terrible performances in this movie. More accurately they give terrible performances for only about 60% of their time on screen.

This is where we have to talk about the English used in this movie!

Kie Kitano

Just use subtitles!
First thing, in "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014), 85% of the dialogue is performed in English and 95% of the cast are European actors. However, the actors who are in this movie are obviously not native English speakers in any form possible in nature. The other 12% of the dialogue is performed in Japanese by the Japanese actors. There is only about 3 minutes of Korean in total in the whole movie. This is just a recipe for disaster.

It is a very odd choice on the part of the director. There is no real reason for this. It is not based on reality. 60% of the movie is set in Germany and there is not a single line of German spoken in the movie. Everyone is speaking English when no one is actually from English speaking countries. This is not realistic.

While the European actors are actually far better than what you would expect in terms of acting, I mean they all, at least, seem like acting is their profession, it is obvious that they cannot really act that proficiently with the language barrio given to them. They tend to range from barely adequate to terrible when acting while juggling speaking in English and the terrible script. However, they come off better than the Asian cast members.

What is with Asians and English?

Our lead characters which include the protagonist, his wife, and the Japanese promotor are just horrendous at it. Considering that, at least, the actors playing the protagonist and the Japanese promotors are decent actors, you can put the blame on the English aspect of their performances. Even in the same movie, when Yûsuke Iseya, who plays the promotor acts, in Japanese, he is great. It is just, when he has to act in English, he seems to forget all of his talent and experience as an actor. This is the same for the Korean lead actor, Yoo Ji-tae , who is in the 2014 Korean drama “Healer” currently.
Yoo Ji-tae

I personally still cannot get the reasoning for this choice. Why risk a movie with an unnecessary hindrance on the acting?  You could just make everyone speak their own native language and subtitled it since it would actually not make a difference as it is already subtitled for the Korean audience.

Koreans do not go to see un-subtitled English movies.
For Koreans, English equals torture and pain.
This means that almost none of the readers of this review is native Koreans.

It is not just the actors’ poor English skills at fault though. The English itself it listenable! While the script is just bad, it gets worse with the English dialogue. Just imagine you have a very poor script written in Korean which you run through “Google Translate”. If you ever tried using this program to translate Korean to English, you would know that it cannot handle it since Korean sentence structures are totally illogical in how it is currently used. So, you then go to a non-native English speaker to correct for grammar and you would get the dialogue from "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014). If you have any practical experience with English, you would not speak like how the dialogue is written in this movie. All the nuances of the language are gone.

At the end
"The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) is like a weird mutant creation of a mad and incompetent scientist. It tries to be Jukebox Opera Musical but never is able to come to a conclusion of what that is in concept. Thus, it feels like part an opera performance recording and part an orchestra opera score recording punctuated with long and frequent periods of very bad acting in English and a very uninteresting story.

This combination of over ambition, incompetence, weird creative decisions made "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) my worst movie of 2014. However, since it is such a mess I actually do not regret seeing it once. I would not want to watch it again unless I was doing an academic thesis on it.
"The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) opened in limited release in Korea and less than 50,000 people saw it. While the budget of this movie is unknown, the earnings of this would not even pay for the electricity cost of heating the theaters in which the movie was being shown in.

So, the only reason to watch "The Tenor: Lirico Spinto" (2014) is to get a first-hand look at what a mess of a crazy experiment this movie was. I am not sure if it is even so bad it is good territory. However, I never get those in practice. I saw “The Room” and it was a mess but at least it was made for nothing.

While this movie is a “F” grade movie overall, I have to give points for the opera performance scenes and the experimental ambitions of the movie. So, it is a D- movie

Score: D- or 1.5/10
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  1. While the movie is pretty transparent pandering, it's not directed at a Korean audience. The Tenor Lirico Spinto opened at Busan, and as an international co-production, in my mind the target was much more likely international opera fans who are familiar with the real-life story the screenplay is based on. This, of course, does not necessarily make it a better movie.

    1. Maybe that is the reason for the English screenplay. But still most of the revenue does come from domestic box office for Korean movies.