A.F.R.I.K.A. is an acronym that stands for Adoring Revolutionary Idols Korea Association, in this Korean chick flick with attitude. Sick of their stressful jobs, lousy boyfriends and floundering college careers, best friends Ji Won (Yu-Won Lee) and So-hyun (Kim Min Sun) hit the road in rented car, only to discover a briefcase full of guns in the back seat. The guns come in handy when the pair are almost raped by bogus paramedics. After fending off some perverts in a diner, they’re joined by Young-mi (Eun-Ji Jo), a red-haired thrill seeker who goads them into armed robbery, and by scheming shopgirl Jin-a (Young-Jin Lee), who has her own reasons for wanting a gun. Having lost the firearms in a poker game, a corrupt cop and his gangster buddies are soon hot on their trail, but the girls’ cross-country crime spree inspires a spate of copycats and brings them legions of fans, plus their own internet site.
With a premise halfway between Thelma & Louise (1991) and those would-be hip comedy-thrillers that followed Quentin Tarantino in the Nineties, this is a breezy affair closer in tone to offbeat teen comedies like Sugar & Spice (2000). Whatever satirical point or feminist message director Shin Seung-Shoo may be aiming for often gets lost amidst the aimless, episodic narrative. The film unwisely keeps cutting back to the inane comic antics of those wacky gangsters, as they slap each other like the Three Stooges, spit in each other’s coffee or (in their one amusing gag) try to persuade people that Korea’s recent blockbusting gangster movies were based on their lives. In what counts as either a gutsy feminist move or an act of pure sadism, the comely actresses stay fully clothed while the fat, slobby gangsters get naked, with one gross-out shot of a villain wiping his ass then smelling it (!!), completely pointless.
Despite wannabe actress So-hyun observing how “shooting that gun makes you look like Angelina Jolie”, this sensibly avoids turning the girls into fetish figures. However, their personalities remain somewhat vague, alternating between whiny or enigmatic to the point of being obtuse. Just when you’re ready to give up on the film, the last half hour becomes witty and inventive. Tensions between college girls Ji Won and So-hyun and working class girls Young-mi (whose mother forced her into prostitution) and Jin-a erupt into a hilarious mock John Woo standoff, only with a chick flick, all hugs conclusion.
Amidst the bubblegum soundtrack, vibrant colour palette and obligatory makeover montage, the girls bond with a spot of disco dancing around an abandoned schoolhouse. There are amusing episodes - like the gas station robbery whose owner they force to sing karaoke (“Why do robbers always ask me to sing?”), the transvestite copycat gang who wind up robbing a store where the girls are shopping, and Jin-a’s revenge on the yuppie who framed and sent her to prison - but the girls do realise that a life of crime isn’t necessarily going to get them what they really want. It’s nowhere fatalistic as Thelma & Louise and more upbeat, which befits its target audience of teenage girls, and if somewhat forgettable, is fun while it lasts.