By Lee Hyo-won
When you have a classic storyline and an amazing cast of top-notch actors, what can possibly go wrong? While a movie can go terribly off beam, fine acting can sometimes keep a film from drowning completely.
", is a conventional tearjerker. Director Kim Jin-seong
, 2002) spices up the family genre a bit by throwing in some novel ingredients that work surprisingly well in the beginning. But the rest of the film goes sour ― rather than sweetly heart-wrenching ― and forcibly squeezes out tears.
Jae-su leads a cruel life for an 11-year-old. His father (Ryu Seung-ryong
) is an abusive, gambling and jobless wreck of a guy, so the little boy has learned to survive on his own, cooking or carefully spending his food stamps and running a string of part-time jobs.
One day, his father shows up with a woman (Kim Hye-soo
). Apparently used to the comings and goings of such transient mother figures ― this one being the 11th as the title suggests ― Jae-su says "mom" without a wince.
"Mom? You didn't tell me you had a kid", says the gaudy woman. But her make-up and wig disappear to reveal a hungry, tired and disheveled woman who eats up all the food in the house when she's not in deep hibernation.
Jae-su seems to have dealt with all sorts of women, but this one is the worst by far. War ensues as the two squabble over a bottle of yogurt and such.
But even enemies join forces when a mutual opponent threatens, and Jae-su and the woman bond together against the violent abuse of Jae-su's father.
"Before I met you, I used to think I was the most pitiful person in the world… But no, I'm second and you can take number one", the woman says. She has led a rough life as a bargirl. Ailing and penniless, she was "bought" into a so-called marriage.
But Jae-su opens up her weary heart, and she learns the meaning of family for the first time in her life. The two lonely souls begin to accept each other as kindred spirits, and the deep empathy blooms into familial love.
Just when the two embark on a newfound relationship, unfortunately, time and circumstances separate them forever.
The film actually works pretty well up to the climax, when Jae-su and the woman build their bond. Subtlety reigns tastefully, but then it falls downhill into a contrived mess.
" rests too heavily on extremities to force reactions from viewers. It takes it too far as it shows, for example, a lengthy scene of domestic violence, as the father relentlessly hits the boy and woman. The level of violence is a bit too much for a family drama, and the film could have been equally disturbing without showing it all.
And yet, the film doesn't die off completely, as it showcases the stellar performances of some of Korea's finest actors.
Actress Kim Hye-soo
("Tazza: The High Rollers" ("Tazza: The High Rollers
"), 2006), Korea's ultimate sex symbol, trades in her femme fatale image to play a broken woman. Kim delivers the role most convincingly, with chipped nails and all. And while she demonstrates her ability to handle a role that's far from glamorous, she retains that unwavering sparkle in her eyes that shines through in all her parts.
Kim's young partner, actor Kim Young-chan
, is thoroughly impressive. The 13-year-old acts with a natural instinct and innocence that many child actors seem lack these days. Korean cinema has much to expect from the young actor.
("Hwang Jin Yi
", 2007) is also unforgettable as a man who, unable to express his affections, tragically falls prey to his own traps as a terrible father. And yet, the cream of the crop would undoubtedly be Hwang Jung-min
, 2007), who stars as the pathetic guy next door, who gives the artificial drama a realistic edge.