You may need a handkerchief or two if you plan to watch "A Family"
, a heartwarming film that opens nationwide Friday. Or a roll of tissue may do - especially if you are a daughter.
, a debut film by director Lee Jeong-cheol
, is about a trouble-laden relationship between a reticent father and his rebellious daughter. This combination may be an odd choice given that mainstream themes in Korean movies usually deal with relationships between father and son, or mother and daughter - the pairs whose bond looks natural.
Indeed, traditional Korean fathers couldn't afford to communicate actively with their daughters. First, they had to work till midnight almost everyday, while their wives took care of their kids in most cases.
Second, they were educated to be strict toward their daughters, a practice tracing back to the conservative Confucian principles.
So, they were forced to be stingy when it came to expressing their genuine feelings toward their daughters. It doesn't cost much to say, "I love you", but they rarely spoke the words, though their true affection toward their daughters has no limit.
Although today's Korean fathers have adopted new rules and are willing to develop much more open-minded relationships with their daughters, some fathers still have deep reservations about talking openly with or revealing their feelings toward their daughters.
In "A Family"
, the no-speak rule goes to extremes. Jeong-eun (Soo-ae
) just gets out of prison. She looks fragile and beautiful. But it is not the first time she has served a prison sentence: This petite pickpocket has three more convictions under her belt.
This time around, however, she is determined to lead a normal life. She has learned a lesson, finally. But when she comes home, there is only her kid brother Jeong-hwan waiting for her, while her father Ju-seok (Joo Hyeon
) is absent.
In fact, Ju-seok used to be a policeman - until he lost sight in one of his eyes in an accident. This irony - a criminal daughter and a cop-turned-fishmonger father - seems to push Ju-seok into putting up a wall against his own daughter.
When Jeong-eun finally sees her father - for the first time in three years - she can't speak a word. Nor can Ju-seok. They do not know what to say, how to act, and despite their best intentions, they feel they only hurt each other.
The psychological distance with her father is frustrating for Jeong-eun, who plans to open a small beauty shop in a rural town with the money she has saved. While under probation, she finds an assistant job at a beauty shop, a step which she believes will help achieve her goal.
The problem is that Ju-seok does not believe her goodwill intention. Not a bit. He threatens kick her out of the house since she always causes troubles. Hurt by the icy response from her father, Jeong-eun feels lonely and isolated.
She visits Chang-won, her former pickpocket partner and now a boss of gangsters who control a huge nightclub. She expects to get back her share of the money, but Chang-won denies owing her a dime. And the vicious, ill-tempered gangster claims that she owes him a huge sum of money, threatening to harm her family members unless she pays back the money.
Meanwhile, on the day Jeong-eun holds a memorial service for her mother who passed away a long time ago, she discovers bottles of medicine that her father has been taking. Yes, her father is fighting a terminal illness but has hidden the fact in order not to worry his daughter and young son.
The plot itself does not have many surprises. What matters here is the way the director pulls at heartstrings of the audience by touching on fine details of the relationships between a father and daughter.
Silence, awkward eye contact and blunt conversations are captured at close angles, disclosing emotional subtlety between the two characters. The emotional interaction is skillfully depicted thanks largely to the superb acting by Joo Hyeon
, a veteran actor, shows off a convincing portrayal of a typical Korean father, who does not know how to express his feelings properly. Director Lee said he was determined to cast Joo Hyeon
ever since he started writing the screenplay.
Playing Jeong-eun, Soo-ae
also proves her potential as a movie actress. She seems to have grasped how to reveal her emotions in a subtle way in the movie, marking a departure from her television acting career ("Love Letter"
Refined acting and a well-crafted script result in a drama that can strongly appeal to the Korean audience who tend to love sad yet heart-warming movies. This does not mean that the movie is without weaknesses. Some plot developments are too predictable, the violent scenes involving gangsters look overdone.
But it is a fresh experience to see a father and daughter reconcile with each other, realizing their true feelings and unconditional affection that transcend the mundane world.
By the way, there is one more thing that you shouldn't forget to bring to the theater together with a handkerchief: a mobile phone. For there may be a long line of teary daughters who are anxious to call their long-neglected fathers at the phone booth.
By Yang Sung-jin