Song Hae-sung’s comedy drama tells a tale of a family where even somewhat thinned blood is still thicker than water, albeit with a distinctly Korean approach that may jar with a Western Audience…
Faced with a failed marriage and career, In-mo (Park Hae-il, The Host, War of the Arrows) is about to commit suicide in his grimy apartment when he receives a call from his Mother (Youn Yuh-Jung, Actresses, The Housemaid, The Taste Of Money) to come home for a meal. Despite his misgivings he decides to return home, where he is met by his lazy minor gangster brother Han-mo (Yun Je-moon, Chaw, Mother) and is immediately bullied by his aggressive sibling. Almost immediately the family is further re-swelled by the arrival of their sister Mi-yeon (Gong Hyo-jin, Crush and Blush, Love Fiction, Beautiful 2012, Rolling Home with a Bull) and her own young daughter Min-kyung (Jin Ji-hee, Hansel and Gretel, Doomsday Book). As the mother desperately tries to keep her warring and dysfunctional family together, the siblings constantly fight against each other, whilst being desperately protective of each other when encountering outside troubles. Eventually various truths about the parentage of all the siblings is exposed, but when Min-kyung runs away after one particularly unsavoury incident, the family bond to rescue her from a potentially nasty fate, leading Han-mo to sacrifice any hope of a future, and quite possibly his life.
I should also mention Gong Hyo-jin, who is one of Korea’s most earthy and naturally comedic actresses who simply does not do enough film work. She has less screen time than the rest of the main cast, but her transformation from morally suspect mother to a seriously glowing Bride is another highlight of the film.
Director Song Hae-sung takes a difficult job of both adapting Cheon Myeong-kwan’s novel Aging Family and a seriously stellar cast (in Korean terms at least), and delivers a movie that is honestly hilarious. He also manages to balance it against some fairly grim material in the second act, which will be quite a jarring experience for most Western viewers, but somewhat expected for those who are used to the genre-swapping conventions that can be prevalent in Korean cinema.
In any other film, the presence of Park Hae-il or Yeon Yeo-jung would be the obvious centre of attention, and whilst they are both excellent, the real star here is the initially loathsome Yun Je-moon. At first his character is totally without charm and we are invited to dislike and actually be repulsed by the man. But as the film and story-lines progress he manages to initially invite our sympathy (when his brother sets out to steal his awkward love interest) and then our respect as he sacrifices pretty much everything to save his niece. The comedic skill of the actor is worthy of respect alone, but by the time the final reel has finished, the true rock of the family is revealed, surprising not just because of how we initially view the character, but when we find out his real connection with the wider family.
This isn’t however one of your fun family comedies. There are moments of attempted suicide, extreme violence, underwear-related masturbation and suggestions of underage prostitution which make the film at time a difficult watch even at its most humorous. I would not go so far to say the film is a full on black-comedy, as it has far too much going on in its heart to properly qualify. I am also fairly sure that the switch of gears into Gangster territory in the final act will confuse some viewers, even if it is part of the original story, and not a Korean movie convention per-se.
If I have a criticism, it is with the ending (and again, I realise this is not technically a fault with the film, but of the source novel), where something quite tragic appears to occur, that would normally have long lasting effects on all the characters, especially Park Hae-il. Within moments though (and I am trying to avoid spoilers), this is totally nullified, and we are given a near happy ending which really is quite jarring against what we just went through.
The criticism is minor though. This is a seriously worthy movie, that seriously brings the laughs (as attested to by the large audience at the LKFF screening) whilst daring to add real depth to the Dysfunctional Family genre.
We interviewed Song Hae-sung, Youn Yuh-jung and Yun Je-mun shortly before the Closing Gala screening of Boomerang Family on Friday 15th November 2013 as part of the 8th London Korean Film Festival 2013.
Boomerang Family is released on UK DVD on 24 February 2014.
Review originally published 17 January 2014.
Home media details
Distributor: Third Window Film (UK)
Edition: DVD (2014)
As you'd expect, the film is presented in a fine transfer for the video and audio. Extras in clued a making of, and two exclusive featuettes for the UK release: footage of the Q&A from the London Korean Film Festival; and also an interview with easternKicks fellow LAFS member Paul Quinn (aka HangulCelluloid.com). Though I commend Third Window for taking advantage of the stars being present to create special content for the UK release, and it's great to see Paul get exposure of course, I wonder if it might have benefited from a bit more time and effort being spent on the production? With the interviews, particularly, the camera is set up far from the action, the quality of the picture poor, making the vibrant backdrop of the Korean Cultural Centre were the interview took place seem washed out. The footage is presented with little editing at all, and not very much in the way of titles.
Please, Third Window, put a little more effort in to credits and presentation. And next time get a couple of cameras set up, and maybe better equipment?