Boomerang Family (고령화가족) – ★☆☆☆☆

Boomerang Family (고령화가족)

Boomerang Family (고령화가족)

As anyone familiar with Korean cinema is aware, comedy-dramas based around family are quite prolific. With the traditional family unit undergoing changes in recent years, the problems and dynamic appearing on screen has followed suit to reflect the evolving societal issues. Boomerang Family (고령화가족) is director Song Hae-seong’s (송해성) foray into the arena, and with previous films including Failan (파이란) and Maundy Thursday (우리들의 행복한 시간), the potential is certainly there for a penetrating examination of the contemporary family unit. Indeed, the trailer suggests a fun-filled look at at such dysfunctional characters. Except that it isn’t. Hitting someone over the head with a brick isn’t funny. Rape and sexual assault aren’t funny. Alongside spectacularly unlikable characters, cliched melodrama and the frankly bizarre last-minute inclusion of gangsters, the contrived and misogynistic screenplay is awful. While there are occasional moments of comedy and drama, and the idea of the close-knit family is debunked, there’s little else positive to say about Boomerang Family.

40 year old film director In-mo (Park Hae-il (박해일) is broke following the failure of his movie and separation from his wife, and decides to move back home with his mother (Yoon Yeo-jeong (윤여정). However older brother Han-mo (Yoon Je-moon (윤제문), a 44 year old ex-convict who still lives at home, is not happy about the move as he doesn’t wish to share. While trying to accept the new situation, they are joined by 35 year old sister Mi-yeon (Kong Hyo-jin (공효진) and her daughter Min-kyeong (Jin Ji-hee (진지희). As the family continually bicker and fight placing stress on their poor mother, Min-kyeong decides to run away from home which forces them all to unite.

In-mo returns home to a beating from older brother Han-mo

In-mo returns home to a beating from older brother Han-mo

The opening of Boomerang Family adequately sets up the kind of comedy to be expected during the film. In-mo fights a man who slept with his wife, and as he begins to lose, In-mo clubs the man on the back of the head with a rock before kicking him while he’s down. Yet as the soundtrack is a light-hearted, French style ditty, these violent images are intended to be humourous. Bizarrely this becomes a running ‘gag’ throughout the film, as when difficult situations arise the respective character simply uses a brick to the head to resolve it. One such incident involves Han-mo who spies a woman in the process of being sexually assaulted and/or raped, and he becomes very excited at the prospect of watching it continue. It’s only when he realises the woman in question is his sister than Han-mo acts by beating the man to a pulp, yet Mi-yeon ends the confrontation by clubbing her own brother with a brick. The reason? The man is her boyfriend. Yet this is not the only incident of misogyny. Despite being the central protagonists In-mo also tries to sexually assault a hairdresser, in order to upset his brother. Luckily she fights him off, but then In-mo staggering admonishes her by stating that people their age can’t love, that only physical needs remain. Rape and perversion are apparently sources of comedy – and are forgivable – in the world of Boomerang Family.

Such incidents highlight the serious problem with the film, as none of the family members are actually likable save the mother and youngster Min-kyeong, both of whom are largely ignored within the family and by the script. When Mi-yeon returns home claiming she wants to divorce her husband, she is scolded by her brothers even after they have seen she is a victim of domestic violence. To resolve the problem In-mo and Han-mo drink with the husband and beg him to take her back, yet when he insults the family the brothers – surprise! – club him with a brick. When In-mo meets with his cheating spouse to discuss divorce she also offends the family, and he responds by nearly striking her in public. Meanwhile Han-mo masturbates by using his niece’s panties as stimulation. It is very difficult to align with any of the characters save the female protagonists, yet Mi-yeon and Min-kyeong are so stuck up and rude it’s not easy with them either. Ultimately what’s left to enjoy is the family interaction and squabbling.

The mother must suffer the awful behaviour exhibited by her children

The mother must suffer the awful behaviour exhibited by her children

The in-fighting displayed by the family is certainly the most enjoyable aspect of Boomerang Family as they curse and hit each other in the manner expected of pre-school children. The immaturity is somewhat humourous, although the comedy is very hit-and-miss and there’s only so many times that kicks to the stomach and fart gags can be funny. For his part director Song Hae-seong competently helms the film although he is never really displays any flair or challenging material as he has done with his previous works. A similar criticism applies to all the acting talent involved, as they all give solid performances without doing much more. This is mostly due to the script which has precious little characterisation for them to work with, and as such audiences are forced to rely on knowledge of the actors star persona and receive enjoyment from them doing silly things.

The script is also responsible for writing the characters into a corner, and then struggling to get them out of it. The result is a family meeting whereby all the secrets they’ve been withholding are revealed, and clearly the attempt is for comedy as each secret becomes more shocking then the last. Yet these revelations are actually more dramatic and sad than funny, and despite the big shocks there isn’t any real exploration or impact. However, the screenwriters use this event as the catalyst for Min-kyeong to run away from home, and thus begins the contrite twist which so often plagues the Korean film industry. Gangsters suddenly emerge to threaten the family, shady business deals with huge amounts of money are made, criminals that abduct and rape teenagers appear, flashbacks to unseen melodrama feature, and so forth. One incident of extreme violence forces Park Hae-il to provide a glimpse of a performance he is capable of, but it’s fleeting.  However, the real question is, can everyone make it to Mi-yeon’s wedding – to the guy that previously tried to assault her – and have a happy ending? It’s very hard to overlook such flaws in order to accept such a finale.

Can the prospect of a new marriage bring peace to the family?

Can the prospect of a new marriage bring peace to the family?

Verdict:

Boomerang Family is a comedy-drama about bickering, immature siblings that crucially is neither funny nor dramatic. The violence of hitting someone with a brick to the head is not comedic, nor is the rampant misogyny featured throughout where rape and sexual assault are not only intended to be entertaining, but also forgivable. Director Song Hae-seong competently helms the film, while solid performances are provided by the actors involved, yet as their characters are so utterly unlikable it’s difficult to align with them let alone find enjoyment.

★☆☆☆☆

Advertisements
Reviews
The hostility between Yu-jeong and Yeon-su evolves into fondness

Maundy Thursday (AKA Our Happy Time (우리들의 행복한 시간) – ★★★★☆

Maundy Thursday (AKA Our Happy Time (우리들의 행복한 시간)

Maundy Thursday (AKA Our Happy Time (우리들의 행복한 시간)

Typically in the romance genre, the manner in which love begins is through trite happenstance – an accidental injury; a misunderstanding; a hot tub time machine. Not so in Maundy Thursday (AKA Our Happy Time (우리들의 행복한 시간), which buckles all conventions in the development of love. 

The romantic drama features a rebellious suicide survivor who, with regular visits to jail at the behest of her Catholic nun aunt, becomes enamored with a death row inmate. Far removed from traditional representations of romance, Maundy Thursday is a riveting cinematic delight, a highly character-driven film that exemplifies the importance of sharing sadness as well as happiness in the creation of love.

Moon Yu-jeong (Lee Na-young (이나영) is a suicide survivor, presenting a particular problem for her devoutly Catholic family and overbearing, selfish mother. Yu-jeong’s aunt, a Catholic nun, persuades her niece to join her on her weekly volunteer work at a prison, attempting to give hope and salvation to the prisoners. Reluctantly agreeing, Yu-jeong and her aunt meet rapist and murderer Jung Yeon-soo (Kang Dong-won (강동원). Initially incredibly hostile towards each other, the pair gradually reveal more about their tortured pasts, their hopes, their fears, and become irrevocably changed through the love that blossoms between them.

After her latest suicide attempt, Yu-jeong is sickened by the selfishness of her family

After her latest suicide attempt, Yu-jeong is sickened by the selfishness of her family

Maundy Thursday is a highly compelling and poignant romantic drama that embraces the darker and more tragic aspects of society in its depiction of love. Such a philosophy is ultimately what makes the film so unique and enthralling, as screenwriters Jang Min-seok (장민석) and Park Eun-yeong (박은영) never shy from exploring how character evolves through the unfair machinations of society, which director Song Hae-seong (송해성) wonderfully conveys. Working class Yeon-su has been abandoned by his mother and delved into a life of crime that has led to his incarceration; Yu-jeong is from a privileged upper-middle class background yet the overbearing Catholicism and rigid lifestyle has left her scarred. Technically two such protagonists should never become intertwined yet the narrative is so organic and flows so well that their meetings – which occur every Thursday – and the development of their relationship are natural and believable. Scenes in which the duo share their emotional pain, eloquently told through dialogue and flashbacks, are simultaneously heartbreaking and endearing revealing not only the suffering endured by people of all walks of life but how such turmoil can bring them together once shared. Acknowledging personal trauma, confronting it, and sharing it with someone special are the driving forces within Maundy Thursday, and the affection and love that blossoms from such pain are masterfully conveyed and deeply poignant.

A social group that does not express such qualities within Maundy Thursday are members of the Catholic faith. The film wonderfully explores how the concept of religion can be taken and abused by a practicing individual with horrifying results. With the exception of the kind Catholic priests and nuns within the prison, Catholicism is represented through Yu-jeong’s family, primarily her abhorrent mother. Director Song Hae-seong (송해성) masterfully portrays the eccentric and arrogant nature of the Catholic family, with expensive ornaments adorning the rigidly structured family home, the repressed clothing style of turtle-necks and high collars, and the snobbery and ignorance in spite of family trauma. The decor within the family home are an amalgamation of reds, oranges and yellows conveying the genuine ‘hell’ that exists there, while the pale-faced black-clothed mother, who is equal parts scary and manipulative, functions as the devil. Yet only Yu-jeong perceives the hypocrisy of her family, chastised for stating truths to people more concerned with rhetoric and status. Yu-jeong’s loneliness and rebellious nature are emphasized to such a degree that it is impossible not to empathize with the character, making her relationship with inmate Yeon-su all the more touching.

The hosility between Yu-jeong and Yeon-su evolves into fondness

The hostility between Yu-jeong and Yeon-su evolves into fondness

Lee Na-young is absolutely captivating in her performance as Yu-jeong. The actress masterfully conveys the tumultuous emotional well deep within the character, from her agitated moments of familial defiance and indifference to criticism through to more challenging maternal confrontations and expressions of past anguish. Lee Na-young’s performance is by far the most captivating, compelling and poignant aspect of Maundy Thursday and as such the film is ultimately her story.

Kang Dong-won takes more of a supportive role in his performance as Yeon-su, yet he also conveys a staggering emotional range. His ill-mannered behaviour and resolute desire to die are highly engaging, yet the occurrence of more dramatic scenes such as confronting the mother of his victim and his subsequent breakdown create incredible empathy with the killer. The fashion in which Yeon-su evolves from a man without hope to finding happiness is wonderfully portrayed by the highly skilled actor.

Despite himself, Yeon-su discovers happiness due to Yu-jeong

Despite himself, Yeon-su discovers happiness due to Yu-jeong

Verdict:

The focus on societal and religious discourses, and the love that can develop through sharing personal trauma, make Maundy Thursday a unique and incredibly compelling romantic drama. The performances by the central couple are wonderful and the manner in which they develop feelings of romance are organic and highly convincing. Maundy Thursday is an excellent portrayal of alternative romance, and a poignant reminder of the value of sharing pain and happiness within a relationship.

★★★★☆

Reviews