Fans of John Carney‘s work will find much to love in this sweet, poignant tale from Korean director Shim Chang-yang. Like the Irish auteur’s work – specifically Once and Sing Street – Da Capo finds resonance from a bittersweet concept and mines it to full effect, combining gentle comedy with beautiful music and some wistful performances to make Da Capo possibly one of the feel-goods of the year.
Da Capo finds talented musician Tae-il (Isaac Hong) returning home after a failed stint trying to find success abroad. Downbeat and rejected, he seeks out the music school where he once taught and an old bandmate, Ji-won (played by Haeun Jang, a guitarist in her own right, and a damned good one) with whom he may or may not have feelings. Tae-il is writing a song, ostensibly about missing a loved one and wondering how they’re doing, but he’s hit a wall. He thinks Ji-won might be able to help, but first, she has to help her students, including a young nu-metal band called The Destoryer (no, that’s not misspelled. It’s even on their tee-shirts). Band frontman Deok-ho (Seo Young-jae) thinks they’ve got a hit on their hands and plays it for Tae-il ahead of their entry into the school music competition. Tae-il likes it but suggests it could use some smoothing down (which is an understatement). He rearranges some of the song composition and soon the band (with the exception of Deok-ho, who knows he’s being replaced as the de facto leader) are entranced by Tae-il and ask him to help them improve.
And so it goes. Tae-il finds himself taking up residence in the music school as his burgeoning relationship with Ji-won deepens, and his enthusiasm for helping Destoryer find their voice allows the kids to come into their own. The two plot strands interweave as Chang-yang darts between the kids (especially Deok-ho who, it turns out, only got into a band in the first place to impress a girl) and Tae-il as he and Ji-won begin to craft the song that might be the beginning of Tae-il’s career. The two plots collide late in the second act as Tae-il must decide which is more important to him: his music, or the kids who look up to him.
A Musical Carney-val
As mentioned before, there are clear parallels with John Carney‘s work. The tentative relationship between Tae-il and Ji-won is perfectly played, never stretching out into cloying melodrama. They evoke Guy and Girl from Once, even going as far as to mimic a key scene from Once involving a guitar and piano. It’s a lovely set-piece and one of the highlights of Da Capo. What really could’ve been a typical love story instead becomes much deeper, and more introspective. The best moments come – typically, as you might imagine – through the music. One impressive scene features Destoryer guitarist Gi-tae (Yang Tae-hwan) trying to become “the fastest guitarist in the world” before Ji-won shows him it’s not all about speed, but rhythm and timing too. They engage in a guitar battle and Ji-won busts out some of the most impressive guitar work shown on film.
Elsewhere, Deok-ho learns from Tae-il to channel his feelings into his music, leading to an excellent scene where the inspired young singer walks his bandmates through the sound he wants them to create. The musical chemistry is brilliant and slowly builds up into a worthy crescendo.
It won’t be for everyone. Da Capo is sweetly melancholic, sometimes achingly so, and that’s sure to deter some who would prefer their musical movies a little faster and a little louder. As well as this, some of the plot points are slightly predictable and tacked on from other movies. A third act scene which sees Tae-il sell his song to a glamorous K-pop star, only to watch it be butchered and reshaped, is typical and does nothing new with its premise. It’s fairly obvious from the outset what Tae-il will do, for anyone who has seen the likes of School of Rock or even About A Boy. Regardless of this, Da Capo leans into these moments with such earnestness that it’s hard to fault it. Yes, this has been done before, and yes Chang-yang hits the same major beats as other movies before this, but think of it this way: Da Capo is that cover band lovingly paying tribute to its heroes, tweaking the song here and there to add a little something different, but ultimately retaining as much of the original work as possible. If you’re the kind of person who loves movies such as Once, Sing Street, and Begin Again, then the unoriginality won’t be a sticking point for you.
Da Capo is a beautiful tribute to the heart-warming musical and is carried by its outstanding cast. Offering a soulful and introspective tone, with genuinely heartfelt moments of authenticity, this Korean dramedy will leave you with a smile on your face come the final credits.
Da Capo is one of a number of musical movies. Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
Da Capo screened at the Glasgow Film Festival on 27th February.
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