Modern Family (가족 시네마) is a collection of four short films that explores the different forms of trauma that can occur for contemporary families. Each story is a very interesting and well-crafted vision of the issues facing the family unit, with each respective director’s style shining through in the quest to articulate the emotional complexities of the situation.
The short films deal with a surprising array of topics including unemployment, the loss of a child, parental responsibility and women’s rights in the workplace. What is wonderful about each entry is the sincerity in which the issue is explored. Often subtle and understated, Modern Family is an insightful film about the complexities of family and the attempts to survive in contemporary society.
Yet ironically, as each short film is so interesting, they all feel as if they end too soon. All four directors have chosen potent topics to explore, and the short time limit means that each respective story feels cut short. The depth each director has applied in examining familial issues is powerful yet seems to only scratch the surface of the situation. It is a testament to the director’s skill that each entry causes a desire for more information, but it is a desire that, for the most part, goes unfulfilled.
In the interest of fairness, each short film is reviewed individually, before a final summary.
Circle Line (순환선) – ★★★★☆
Director Shin Su-won’s (신수원) Circle Line is the most prestigious entry within Modern Family, having won the Canal+ prize at Cannes in 2012. The award is thoroughly deserved, as director Shin employs some wonderful artistic shots and symbolism in exploring the life of a middle-aged man who has recently been made unemployed. To make matters worse, his wife is soon to give birth to their second child. Depressed and ashamed, the man simply travels on the subway circle line all day, searching for jobs on his laptop and observing the assortment of characters that come and go. Director Shin articulates the man’s frustrations superbly through the mise-en-scene and the minor, but highly symbolic, confrontations that arise. Jeong In-gi (정인기) is also terrific as the redundant father-to-be, providing a restrained performance that suddenly explodes when tensions become too much to bear. Circle Line is as much a commentary on contemporary masculinity, economy, and society as it is about family, and it’s the subtle manner in which each area is dealt with that makes the film so compelling.
Star-shaped Stain (별 모양의 얼룩) – ★★★☆☆
Star-shaped Stain is arguably the most poignant film in the omnibus, as director Hong Ji-young (홍지영) examinations a couple whose daughter died through tragic circumstances. Initially the couple seem to be coping extremely well with the loss, however with the anniversary of the youngster’s death the barriers that they have built to cope with the trauma gradually wear down. Director Hong does a great job of gently peeling back the layers of the protagonists, particularly of the mother (Kim Ji-young, 김지영) who feels such a tremendous sense of guilt that she continuously revisits the events of her final encounter with her daughter. The real tragedy comes in the form of the hope that her daughter is alive, as the once composed woman begins to unravel which is genuinely heartbreaking to witness. The moving film is unfortunately cut short just as it starts to become seriously compelling, as the protagonists are pushed into highly emotional and psychological territory but then abruptly ends. This is a real shame as there is a lot more potential to be explored, but which never materializes due to the limitations of the running time.
E.D.571 – ★★★☆☆
Director Lee Soo-yeon’s (이수연) entry is the only one which adds a more science-fiction sensibility to the exploration of family by setting the story in the year 2030. A workaholic career woman (Seon Woo-seon, 선우선) leads a rather lonely life, living purely to work. Yet it is thrown into disarray when a young girl (Ji Woo, 지우) appears on her doorstep claiming to be her biological daughter, the result of selling an unfertilized egg in order to pay for tuition years prior. The film is a commentary on parental responsibility with the media full of reports about criminal youths and gangs, but with the arrival of the biological daughter it becomes clear that such actions are the results of awful parenting and neglect. However E.D. 571 doesn’t really explore the issue with the depth required for it to be insightful, with mentions of certain situations but lacking the psychological and emotional depth for them to carry any weight. Part of the reason is the decision to shoot the entire confrontation in the woman’s home in the form of a battle of wits which, while certainly interesting, doesn’t really get to the heart of the issues being referenced.
In Good Company (인 굿 컴퍼니) – ★★★☆☆
In Good Company is an excellent examination of the misogyny and unfairness women are forced to endure in contemporary Korea. Director Kim Seong-ho (김성호) also wisely shoots his film in the form of a documentary adding a greater sense of realism, while adding dramatic ‘reconstructions’ of the events that occurred as a pregnant worker is forced to resign in order to save a company providing maternity pay. Interestingly, rather than centering the argument around exploitative patriarchy through the male boss – performed ably by Lee Myeong-haeng (이명행) – the narrative emphasises the work ethic within Korean culture, and the lack of female solidarity, as the source of the problem. This is where In Good Company really shines, as the women who should know better and support each other actually perpetuate the misogyny, which is a highly refreshing take on the subject. While the film explores the issues well, it is ultimately let down in the quest to tie up all the narrative loose ends through a contrived finale which undermines what came before.
Modern Family is an insightful collection of 4 short films concerned with trauma in the contemporary family unit. Each director – Shin Su-won, Hong Ji-young, Lee Soo-yeon and Kim Seong-ho – have each produced work that exemplifies their unique styles as well as exploring quite diverse areas, and the omnibus is consistently compelling throughout. The time limitations do have a negative impact on the storytelling however, as just as the narrative begins to push their protagonists in dramatic directions the film is cut short, or the rush to tie everything up leads to contrivances. Despite this, Modern Family is a thought-provoking drama, and a great showcase of directing talent.