2017/01/07 | 376 views | | Permalink
Dong-cheol (played by Kim Soo-ro) and Man-ho (played by Lee Seon-gyoon) are a couple of regular blokes resorting to increasingly desperate measures to try and pay off the interest to White Head (played by Kim Byeong-ok), a sinister loan shark who demands payment be exactly on time. Eventually, in their desperation, Dong-cheol and Man-ho kidnap obnoxious teenage girl Tae-hee (played by Ko Eun-ah) as part of an unnecessarily complicated and ill-advised plan to pay off their debts.
Allegedly "A Cruel Attendance" is a comedy. Occassionally, when director Kim Tae-yoon embraces the sheer dark humor of the protagonists being a couple of amateur kidnappers, the jokes hit fairly well. Unfortunately the screeplay by writer Ki Seung-tae keeps attempting to drag the story into serious territory. It's not a combination that ever works very well, because dark comedy and pathos undermine each other. Dong-cheol and Man-ho are so pitiful and clueless we just feel sorry for them. Added serious dimensions compromise their already bad position into sadistic cruelty.
The decision to add in a second kidnapper, I think, is the main problem. White Head is a scary enough antagonist on his own that "A Cruel Attendance" really doesn't need another one. Indeed, considering how White Head is literally the source of all of Dong-cheol and Man-ho's problems, it's kind of weird how the only time he ever shows up is when Dong-cheol and Man-ho intentionally seek him out.
The other big problem with the antagonist is that, even when his motivation is finally explained in the end, nothing about the man's plan makes any sense. It's the kind of complicated movie plan that relies on cooperation from several characters not on his side who don't even know a plan is afoot at all, while relying on the (in this case explicitly) incompetent protagonists being just barely capable enough to move the plot forward. He does all this while avoiding detection, somehow, for a goal that's more about emotions than money.
Then there's Dong-cheol and Man-ho themselves, who are rather undeveloped as characters and frankly interchangable for most of the story. "A Cruel Attendance" itself seems to forget which man was responsible for which decision in the larger plot, as the villain's big climactic revelation is completely undercut by the inherently jokey nature of the original scene being referenced. "A Cruel Attendance" tries to have its story both ways far too often, the result being that it does neither comedy nor drama exceptionally well.
In all fairness I'd only really describe the drama in "A Cruel Attendance" as being explicitly bad. Kim Soo-ro and Lee Seon-gyoon are capable everymen. The colorful characters they meet are all amusing in their own way- when "A Cruel Attendance" really wants to put on personality for the sake of a decent laugh, it works well as a movie. But the occasionnal funny joke isn't enough to save the eventually exhausting pace at which we are told the rather pointless moral that kidnapping someone to get out of loan shark debt is bad.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on VCD from YESASIA
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Cruel Attendance" + DVD Giveaway"
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