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 story ends just as the relationship begins

The Winter of the Year was Warm (내가 고백을 하면) – ★★★☆☆

The Winter of the Year was Warm (내가 고백을 하면)

The Winter of the Year was Warm (내가 고백을 하면)

All too often, cinematic representations of love employ a host of cliches and happenstance in order for lovelorn individuals to meet. While the predictability of such narrative devices are relished by some and despised by others, the sense of realism is more often than not shunned in favor of more crowd-pleasing moments that bring the couple closer.

The Winter of the Year was Warm (내가 고백을 하면) soundly rejects such notions. Director David Cho (조성규) has constructed a story whereby the blossoming romance that features is very much a natural development born out of the drama that occurs, and as such is a refreshing and quite charming tale. Ironically therein also lies the main issue with the film, in that director Cho spends so much time establishing the lives of the central couple and the origins of the burgeoning romance that there is little payoff.

Operating as a theater owner and film director, Seoulite In-seong (Kim Tae-woo (김태우) loves nothing more than to visit the coastal city of Gangneung at the weekends to rest and enjoy the local cuisine. However, Gangneung resident nurse Yoo-jeong (Ye Ji-won (예지원) travels to Seoul every weekend to escape daily stress and experience the culture of the capital city. As the two meet by chance and become increasingly more acquainted, In-seong and Yoo-jeong agree to swap apartments at weekends to make their travels more convenient. In doing so, they discover more about each other and realise they have more in common than they first believed.

Initially reluctant, nurse Yoo-jeong agrees to swap homes with film maker In-seong at weekends

Initially reluctant, nurse Yoo-jeong agrees to swap homes with film maker In-seong at weekends

Director Cho, who has produced an incredible amount of films over the past few years, uses his knowledge of the film industry well in conveying In-seong’s frustrations at working in the business. The variety of meetings with odd film professionals and his continual begging for funds are humourous to watch, more so for those familiar with the industry. The comedy throughout The Winter of the Year was Warm is not of the laugh-out-loud variety, but of the ironies and quirky moments that occur in life that subtly gesture in new avenues and experiences. Such comic social realism is also ascribed with Yoo-jeong. Due to the selfishness of her Seoulite friend, Yoo-jeong is forced to sleep at a motel and listen to the amourous moans of neighbouring couples, a funny event that forces her to consider finding a home in Seoul. Through the gentle pacing and delicate characterisation, it becomes clear that both Yoo-jeong and In-seong seek an escape from the stresses in their lives, running to different cities in a bid to alleviate tension yet, ironically, tend to encounter more.

Through a chance meeting at a coffee shop in Gangneung, which serves as the ‘hub’ of the film, In-seong and Yoo-jeong become acquainted. The awkwardness of the first meeting is conveyed well by the actors who perform with a natural sincerity that is quite charming, while the long-takes used by the director imply a level of realism that makes their meeting wholly believable. In a more contrived romantic-drama the couple would immediately discuss the option of exchanges homes for the weekend and agree, but it’s to the films credit that Yoo-jeong refuses. Her hesitation on the matter is logically sound given that they are unfamiliar, and it’s a decision that allows the narrative to explore their gradual development and burgeoning relationship.

After a trip to the karaoke room, In-seong and Yoo-jeong become closer

After a trip to the karaoke room, In-seong and Yoo-jeong become closer

While such a sensitive portrayal of their fledgling relationship is refreshing and lends credibility, it is during this time that the narrative becomes stuck. The establishment of Yoo-jeong’s life as a nurse and relationship woes are portrayed well and serve as a great counterpoint to In-seong, yet most other scenes are often superfluous and add little impetus to the main story. This is undoubtedly director Cho’s intention, to capture the smaller, more trivial moments of life, but it becomes bland rather quickly. In fact, there are a great many scenes which could easily be edited out without affecting the overall story, as much of the second act is spent attempting to expand characterization without really providing much in the way of new, or interesting, information.

The Winter of the Year was Warm does thankfully pickup however once the home exchange has been agreed. It is through these scenes that the film finds its originality as the two explore each others tastes in films and music, and are forced to communicate as they break house rules due to bad habits. The swap also instigates some of most humourous scenes in the entire film, and it’s a real shame this area wasn’t expanded upon further as they are genuinely enjoyable and propel the relationship forward. Such irony even strikes the finale of the romantic-drama, as the relationship just starts blossom into romance as the film ends, leaving the audience to surmise how the couple become even closer.

The story ends just as the relationship begins

The story ends just as the relationship begins

Verdict:

By employing a greater focus on gentle social realism and irony, The Winter of the Year was Warm is a refreshing take on the romantic-drama. Director David Cho has created a quite charming tale of two middle-aged singletons attempting to escape their daily lives yet finding something more, employing subtle development and humourous satire to enjoyable effect. While the second act goes on for too long, the film picks up once their homes have been exchanged and they discover more about each other, serving to make the film a quite charming exploration of the origins of romance.

★★★☆☆

Reviews
Pil-yong's interest in hanji leads to a world he never knew existed

Hanji (달빛 길어올리기) – ★★★☆☆

Hanji (달빛 길어올리기)

Hanji (달빛 길어올리기)

Director Im Kwon-taek (임권택) continues his love affair with Korean culture in Hanji (달빛 길어올리기), a film about the traditional art of paper-making. While such a premise may initially make audiences baulk, the auteur’s love and admiration of the tradition shines through every scene, crafting a poetic narrative about a cultural trait on the brink of extinction.

Hanji tells the story of Pil-yong (Park Joong-hoon (박중훈), a civil servant appointed to a committee charged with the restoration of the only surviving record of the Jeonju Annals. Knowing little of the practice, Pil-yong researches the art with diligence and becomes increasingly passionate about the project. His dedication is in part due to guilt as his actions caused his wife Hyo-kyeong (Ye Ji-won (예지원) to suffer a stroke three years prior, while he had also belittled her former occupation as a paper-maker and never understood the sorrow of her inability to find her hometown. Yet just the project begins, the government withdraws funding and the restoration is placed in jeopardy. Reluctantly teaming with documentary filmmaker Ji-won (Kang Soo-yeon (강수연), Pil-yong battles to save the hanji industry and restore the Jeonju Annuls while proving his worth as a husband.

Pil-yong's interest in hanji leads to a world he never knew existed

Pil-yong’s interest in hanji leads to a world he never knew existed

Hanji is very wisely positioned from Pil-yong’s perspective, a man ignorant of the history and cultural importance of the tradition which allows the audience to learn about the craft through his research and discussions with expert paper-makers on the practice. However this also leads the film to convey documentary-esque sensibilities, a feature of which director Im Kwon-taek is keenly aware and subverts through his ironic inclusion of a documentary team following the restoration project. While their addition does somewhat diffuse the educational dimension, Hanji often straddles the line between film and documentary and occasionally conveys a mild ‘preachy’ tone which is initially interesting, but becomes tiresome in the later stages. However it is Pil-yong’s desire to prove himself, discover his wife’s passion and locate her hometown that compels the narrative forward during such moments, as his responsibility for Ji-won’s illness – and desire to cure her – drives him deeper into the history of hanji, Jeonju, and Korea itself.

The heart of Hanji is the relationship between Pil-yong and Ji-won, which is allegorical of Korean history by reenacting the story of hanji through the trials of a failing marriage. As a descendant of the most famous hanji artist in Korea, Ji-won is hanji personified, while her husband symbolises an artist/author. When Pil-yong’s affair with another woman years prior is discovered, Ji-won suffers a stroke and becomes immobile and depressed, barely able to speak. This reflects the abandonment of hanji by artists, who opted to use paper less difficult to manufacture as it required less work and was more comfortable – a description Pil-yong applies to his infidelity. Yet through his journey, Pil-yong discovers that hanji – like his wife – may well require hard work but the quality of it lasts for at least a thousand years, and doesn’t deteriorate as with lesser equivalents. As a renowned professor describes, hanji is ‘honest’ paper as it reveals the skill of the artist whereas other paper conceals it, leaving a record of which that lasts beyond the grave. In fighting to restore the hanji industry and the Jeonju Annuls at great personal sacrifice, Pil-yong learns the value of identity, culture, history, and marriage.

Ji-won's search for her hometown is allegorical of searching for Korean identity and history

Ji-won’s search for her hometown is symbolic of searching for Korean identity and tradition

In terms of performance, Kang Soo-yeon shines as long-suffering Ji-won, conveying an incredible physical presence through her illness. Her depression and inability to communicate are also highly impressive, particularly her evolution as she struggles to gain greater strength. Park Joong-hoon is competent as Pil-yong, conveying his fascination with hanji and his frustration with the lack of support well. In fairness, there are few scenes that actually challenge the actor as Pil-yong is generally the focal point for Im Kwon-taek’s journey through the history of the craft. That said, the marital dispute and Ji-won’s illness notwithstanding, there is an absence of chemistry between the two central protagonists that is acutely apparent, and while Ji-won’s physical evolution is conveyed the same does not apply to their relationship which is devoid of affection. As such, Pil-yong’s obsession with the history of hanji and restoring his wife’s health is conveyed more as acknowledging his responsibility than reinforcing love between them.

Im Kwon-taek does attempt to rectify this through his masterfully poetic final scenes, in which he emphasizes the importance of Buddhist philosophy and nature, particularly the moon, as integral to the hanji crafting process. It is incredibly romantic as Korea itself is is conveyed as the missing piece of the production puzzle, one that when fully appreciated allows artists to create, the sick to heal, and estranged partners to reunite.

The secrets of hanji lies with Buddhist monks and nature

The secrets of hanji lie with Buddhist monks and nature

Verdict:

Hanji is a film based on a genuine love of Korean culture and tradition by auteur Im Kwon-taek. While at times the film can convey a rather educational, documentary tone the film emphasizes the importance of remembering and supporting cultural traditions as they are inherently tied to notions of identity. Hanji is poetic and philosophical, conveying that diligence and perseverance are highly rewarding experiences and serves as a love letter to a dying cultural tradition.

★★★☆☆

Reviews