Drama, Films, Recommended posts, Reviews, South Korea

The Dinner

3.5 stars만찬, Manchan. South Korea 2013. Directed by Kim Dong-Hyun. Starring Jung Eui-Gap, Park Se-Jin, Jeon Kwang-Jin, Lee Eun-Joo, Sung Hong-Il, Park In-Soo, Bang Young. 125 mins. In Korean with English subtitles. 1 Comment

A low budget but well crafted Korean indie drama following the downfall of an average family…

Noted Korean indie director Kim Dong-hyun returns after a gap of some six years with The Dinner, a low-budget drama that managed the impressive feat of being shot for less than $100,000. Whereas Kim’s 2005 debut A Shark and Hello, Stranger from 2007 tended to revolve around outsider figures, here he goes for the opposite approach, focusing on the many hardships faced by an everyday modern family. Despite it being a low key production, for its premier the film was given the prestigious closing slot of the 2013 Busan International Film Festival.

The film opens with a woman called Kyung Jin (Lee Eun-joo) arguing with the father of her newborn child, who has since left her and who threatens to have the baby put up for adoption if left in his care. A few years later, the boy, Jae Hyeon is now being looked after by Kyung Jin with the help of her elderly parents (Kim Su-bok and Baek Nak-sun), aided by her older and younger brothers In Cheol (TV actor Jung Eui-gap) and In Ho (Jeon Kwang-jin). The family doesn’t have things easy, and struggle to get by financially, especially after In Cheol loses his job, which also causes trouble for him when it comes to looking after his sickly wife Hye Jeong (Park Se-jin, Choked). In Ho has problems of his own, trying to pay off his student debts by working as a driver while supporting his fiancée Min Jeong (Han Song-I).

With The Dinner, Kim Dong-hyun seems to have been heavily influenced by Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda, aiming for the same kind of down to earth family portrait, albeit with a somewhat darker and more depressing tone. It certainly doesn’t make for cheerful viewing, being filled with economic suffering, illness, arguments, child custody battles and tragedy, charting the downfall of an average group of essentially decent and likeable people due to forces beyond their control and despite their best efforts to keep themselves afloat. It’s a humanistic offering, Kim making a real effort to explore and engage his sympathetic characters, and the film relies for the most part on quietly borne pain rather than histrionics, with the solutions to problems being sought through dramatic rather than violent conflict.

The accomplished script keeps things grounded, and though there are a few clichés thrown in here and there (In Cheol’s doomed dream of opening a restaurant and his wife’s unspecified illness, for example), Kim achieves a high degree of believability, making the film involving and affecting. The understated performances also help, all the cast being convincing in their generally well-written parts, Jung Eui-gap in particular impressing in what gradually emerges as the closest thing the film has to a central role.

At the same time, it’s understandable that The Dinner might not be for everyone, as it’s very much an indie film, and frequently crosses the line between being subtle and obtuse, especially when it comes to the ending. Similarly, it’s a fairly slow moving piece of cinema, clocking in at a rather long 125 minutes and mostly made up of scenes of dialogue and misery. Things do pick up around the end of the second act when disaster strikes, and this adds tension to the final third, though even then Kim resolutely avoids anything too melodramatic, giving the film a very different feel to most films of its type. There’s a definite sense of stillness to the proceedings as a whole, and it’s a patient affair, with pale, grey colours that reflect the quiet desperation of its characters.

For those who enjoy Korean indie cinema though, The Dinner is one of the better films of the last year, even if it’s not exactly easy or fun viewing. Deliberately paced and unflinching in its exploration of the disintegration of an unfortunate family, it sees Kim Dong Hyun continuing his run as a director worth watching and as a skilled commentator on the human condition.

The Target screens as part of the 9th London Korean Film Festival 2014.

This review originally appeared on BeyondHollywood.com on 14 July 2014 and is reprinted with their permission.

About the author

James MudgeJames Mudge James Mudge
From Glasgow but based in London, James has been writing for a variety of websites over the last decade, including BeyondHollywood in the US and YesAsia in Hong Kong. As well as running film consultancy The Next Day Agency, James is also the Festival Director of the Chinese Visual Festival in London, an annual event which showcases Chinese language cinema... More »
Read all posts by James Mudge

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