By Joon Soh
The relationship between the two Koreas may be a serious issue in the real world, but in recent years it has become a source for lowbrow comedies for the domestic film industry.
The latest to use our neighbors of the North for laughs is "A Bold Family"
. The film, which opens today, tells of a pair of brothers who try to convince their North Korea-born father that his dream of unification has taken place.
The plot will remind many of "Goodbye, Lenin", a German film that played in Korea late last year, except the point in that movie was to pretend German reunification didn't happen. But in cinema the difference between unification and division turns out to be little, as both films mine the same quirky side of communism for its humor.
The brothers at the center of "A Bold Family"
are Myeong-seok (Kam Woo-sung
) and Myeong-gyoo (Kim Soo-ro
). The older brother Myeong-seok is a carpenter with a loving wife and daughter, but after some bad business decisions finds himself steeped in debt.
Myeong-seok discovers that the solution to his financial trouble lies with his father. The elder Kim (Shin Goo
), who was separated from his first family in the North prior to the Korean War, purchased some land in the South that is, unbeknownst to him, now worth 5 billion won.
But the terminally ill Kim plans to give over the land to the Unification Ministry upon his death, leading Myeong-seok to come up with a plan to convince his father that the Koreas have reunified in order to get him to agree to sell the land.
Along with getting his whole extended family to pitch in, he recruits his younger brother Myeong-gyoo, an aspiring filmmaker, and his rag-tag film crew to make some "North Korean" news broadcasts.
What starts out as a simple enough lie gradually becomes bigger and more preposterous, leading those involved to pretend to be North Korean newscasters, circus performers and table tennis players. The lie begins to consume everyone around the family, including a businessman who comes to collect his debt from Myeong-seok only to get sucked into the whole circus.
At its best, "A Bold Family"
is rather silly and entertaining, and includes some truly hilarious scenes, such as a neighborhood chase involving a Chinese food delivery man and the mother of the family. And the supporting cast, which includes Sung Ji-ru
as the overzealous businessman and Shin Yi
as the B-movie actress who is asked to be all things North Korean, are top notch.
But after a while, one gets the feeling that too much of the film is based on the same one-liner. The stereotypical portrayal of North Koreans as stiff and awkwardly formal may be good for a few laughs, but gets to be predictable and a bit insulting when extended for the duration of a full-length feature.
And given how familiar these caricatures feel, it may make you wonder just how much we really understand about our " family " in the North.