▲ Our Bad Magnet Korean poster. Provided by AGA Company.
In a torrent of emotions both overwhelming and serene, as a million flower petals blot out the sun and washed the earth in gold, childhood friends wept to the skies to mourn for all that was lost and all that was gained. Douglas Maxwell’s Our Bad Magnet tells the tale of four friends—Frazer, Paul, Alan, and Gordon—and their journey of innocence, hate, and nostalgia. Spanning three decades, it tells the story of their lives in a mix of humor with a twist both dark and tear-jerking.
March 5, 2017. The clock had long raced past five and the minute hand was already sprinting towards two. Though the performance was not to be on until six, it was admittedly starting to get nerve racking. Thankfully, Hyehwa station and Daehangno was never too far away—at the very least not for the average theater-junkie. Seoul Metro’s Line 4 may be a hassle to get on or off, but it is the ritual rite everyone must undergo, especially to get to Hyehwa. The queue at the ticket box was grand, and so was the buzzing excitement as the show’s magic drew closer.
Magic happens around the world and in every corner, and Art One Theater on that day was no exception. Someone, somewhere backstage, pressed a button and muttered a cue—then there was light. The four actors—Oh Seung Hoon (Gordon), Park Gang Hyun (Frazer), Bae Doo Hoon (Paul), and Woo Chan (Alan)—began pouring their hearts out for the next two hours, each faithfully playing their part in the magic machine we call theater.
Without disclosing too much—and in all honesty, anything beyond the first curtain raise would be a spoiler—the Our Bad Magnet experience was truly one of a kind. It was by no means a Broadway production with hundreds in attendance, equal parts audience and performer. Instead, the fifty-or-so audience in that theater only saw the faces of four actors, and not one other living soul on that stage. People came for a show but did not expect a spectacle. By the end, however, everyone had left the room with tears welled in their eyes.
Our Bad Magnet, in short, is the intense yet melancholy tale of four friends whose childhood friendship turns bitter and spiteful as they age, and their attempts to repair what was lost. They loved each other at 9 years old, hated each other at 19, and fate brings them back on the 29th year of their lives. The stories told by Gordon, the dumb-and-dumber-esque combination of Paul and Alan, as well as the raw emotion Frazer is bound to immerse the audience in a 2-hour ride of one of the best known theatrical scripts in Korean theater history.
▲ Our Bad Magnet actors on stage. Provided by Youtube.
For any theatergoer, Our Bad Magnet may prove to be one of the greatest journeys they have ever had the chance to partake in. It is intimate and honest, yet alien to a certain degree—even with Korean actors—that the story never devolves into another factory-pressed soap opera. It is breathtakingly hilarious and emotionally engaging. It will lift the spirits then crash it, then stomp on the shards some more, just to rebuild it back up again for a gentle push into the realm of complete pathos. Our Bad Magnet is a show best watched at the edge of one’s seat.
On the downside, the Our Bad Magnet experience may differ completely from actor to actor. An emotional performance in nature, the abilities of the performers will without a doubt sway the quality of the show, perhaps more so than others. Without the hand of an expert performer, Our Bad Magnet and the rendition of the show back in March 5th may have been a mediocre one, fit for one article and no second thoughts.
To address another point, the dialogue may sometimes feel overly crude. Much of it owes to the fact that the performance revolves around three arcs—when the characters are 9, 19, and 29 years old. Expectedly, the most cussing appears with the teenage arc. This would be a non-issue had the dialogue been more creative. Surely there are more curse words than two or three unique terminologies depicting various vulgarities. Indeed, the dialogue could use a small dash of creativity.
Our Bad Magnet in Korea
First landing in Korean theaters in 2005, Our Bad Magnet enjoyed success and acclaim for each tour the performance swept through in Korea. For the latest rendition of the play, Our Bad Magnet boasts a versatile and talented ensemble of both cast and crew. Choo Minjoo, a Korean play director with multiple accolades and seven shows under her belt, takes the reigns as she directs Our Bad Magnet’s two-month journey.
For the music, composer Cho Yoon Jung grips the baton as she directs the memorable music of a striking show. While she is not a household name, there is no doubt her music is. Cho Yoon Jung has been part of countless productions both on screen and on stage, and she has made musical numbers for dramas such as Behind the White Tower (2007), Queen Seondeok (2009), Dream High (2011), and movies such as Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (2004) and 71: Into the Fire (2010).
In theaters from March 5 to May 28, Our Bad Magnet is performed by 12 brilliant actors, three for each character. Park Eun Seok, Park Gang Hyun, and Lee Chang Yeop play the role of Frazer, a hot headed leader type that heads the group of friends. Ahn Jae Young, Bae Doo Hoon, and Sohn Yoo Dong act as Paul, a conformist who is second in the group behind Frazer. Kang Jeong Woo, Woo Chan, and Choi Yong Sik perform as Alan, the mediator struggling to keep the group intact. Lastly, there is Gordon, a sulking child from afar who has a propensity to write stories, acted by Moon Tae Yoo, Song Kwang Il, and Oh Seung Hoon.
▲ Actors pose as petals fall. Provided by Yonhap News.