The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계) – ★★★☆☆

The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계)

The Show Must Go On (우아한 세계)

Kang In-gu (Song Kang-ho (송강호) is far from the average gangster. While he joins his compatriots in the Dog Gang as they partake in criminal activities and expand their territory, In-gu also wants the joy of having a typical family. Yet his long-suffering wife (Park Ji-young (박지영) and daughter (Kim So-eun (김소은) are deeply ashamed of his occupation, with In-gu’s efforts to impress them and earn their respect constantly failing. Thankfully, due to a great deal secured by In-gu, he can finally quit the gangster lifestyle and focus on creating the perfect home in the suburbs. Yet when the ambitious younger brother (Yoon Je-moon (윤제문) of the big boss (Choi Il-hwa (최일화) makes a play for power, In-gu’s dreams quickly begin to unravel.

In-gu's attempts to have a career as a gangster as well as a family strain his relationships

In-gu’s attempts to have a career as a gangster as well as a family strain his relationships

The Show Must Go On is a unique gangster tale in that director Han Jae-rim does away with the overt machismo and glamourisation of the underworld lifestyle, presenting a more grounded and comedic interpretation of the genre. Crime comedies have become somewhat of a staple in Korean cinema with the Marrying the Mafia and My Wife is a Gangster series, but what sets The Show Must Go On apart from its peers is that overt humour is jettisoned in favour of irony and satire. The original Korean title translates as ‘Elegant World‘ yet In-gu’s life is revealed as anything but, as he works hard in absurd situations in order to provide for his family but succeeds only in upsetting them further. When his daughter’s grades slip, for example, In-gu attempts to bribe the concerned teacher with vouchers incurring greater animosity from the family. In his role as senior gangster, In-gu is forced to wrestle with a short middle-aged man and bite his fingers in order to acquire prints for a contract. It is through such ironic moments that director Han pokes fun at both the lifestyle and the genre, resulting in a film with a distinct identity.

That said, the humour within the crime-comedy-drama misses more often than it hits. While director Han competently helms the action and creates certain confrontations that raise a smile, others mostly just fall flat and give way to violent conflict, dramatic scenes, or a combination of the two. As such the tone within The Show Must Go On veers uncontrollably throughout the narrative and is incredibly uneven from beginning to end. Certain set-pieces – such as a battle royale between gangsters and striking construction workers, presented as comedic through the overtly feminine fighting styles of the supposedly tough criminals – make light of keen social problems which tends to seem in bad taste. Legendary supporting actor Oh Dal-soo is employed to help bring a greater element of fun as In-gu’s best friend from a rival gang, however his paltry screen-time unfortunately allows him little room to maneuver.

In-gu and best friend Hyun-soo joke around in one of the film's lighter moments

In-gu and best friend Hyun-soo joke around in one of the film’s lighter moments

The uneven tonal balance extends to The Show Must Go On’s weak final act, where the film disappointingly falls into repetition and melodrama. At 112 minutes the film doesn’t have a particularly long running time yet due to the imbalances and protracted finale, tedium sets in ultimately resulting in a film which feels overly long.

What makes The Show Must Go On watchable and entertaining is the highly charismatic performance of Song Kang-ho, who carries the entire film on his talented shoulders. The star has made a career out of playing incredibly likable, bumbling, well-intentioned fools and he channels such prowess brilliantly into the character of In-gu. Song also manages to construct the protagonist as so appealing that a great deal of sympathy is almost demanded from the audience, despite In-gu’s status in the criminal underworld. The actor conveys the gangster first and foremost as a sensitive husband and father, desperate to do right by them yet as he is his own worst enemy, he simply creates further embarrassment and tension. In removing the overt machismo and swagger so often associated with the genre and constructing In-gu as a character with more diversity and depth, Song has taken a highly uneven script and made it an engaging drama.

In-gu is violent when necessary but first and foremost is a family man

In-gu is violent when necessary but first and foremost is a family man

Verdict:

The Show Must Go On is a unique offering by director Han Jae-rim, who seeks to construct a gangster comedy with ironic and satirical sensibilities. The result is very hit-and-miss with a tone that is generally all over the place, despite the competent directing on display. The film is saved however by Song Kang-ho’s wonderful performance as a sensitive father/criminal, and fans of the actor will no doubt find much to enjoy.

★★★☆☆

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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.

★☆☆☆☆

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