One of the biggest pleasures of watching and reviewing films is coming across hidden gems, surprisingly good movies that had no prior testament to their prowess. Lim Dae-hyeong's debut definitely falls under this category.
The story revolves around Mo Geum-san, a barber and a widower of few words, who seems to cherish his routine of time in the shop, exercising at the local swimming pool and drinking in a small local bar at the end of his day more than anything. However, his uneventful life takes a dramatic change when the doctors inform him that he has stomach cancer. Mr Mo decides to come out of his comfort zone and even shoot a movie based on his own script. In order to do so, he asks the help of his somewhat estranged son, Stephen, a film student in Seoul, and his girlfriend, Ye-won. His son is enervated by his father's behaviour at the beginning, in an attitude that becomes much worse when Mr Mo's secrets come to the fore, but eventually warms to his father wish of shooting a Chaplin-esque comedy.
Lim Dae-hyeong directs a film that moves between Charlie Chaplin and Jim Jarmusch's movies, in a surprising combination that benefits the production to the fullest. In that fashion, Mr Mo's laconic, slapstick-funny behaviour represents the first element, particularly in the short film he is trying to complete, while the general atmosphere of the misfits wondering around the country, drinking in bars and acting unconventionally, to say the least, represents the second. Add to that the precision that derives from each shot of Moon Myung-hwan's black-and-white cinematography, the combination of retro and modern images, the somewhat abrupt but equally precise editing of Park Se-young-I, and the slapstick humor that puts an almost permanent smile on the viewer's face, and you have a film that looks like a Korean version of a Jarmusch movie.
The narrative, which is split in five chapters, also moves towards the same direction, while the gradual revealing of Mr Mo's true personality, which actually lasts until the very end, also being one of the biggest traits of the film. The same applies to Ha Hyeon-jin's minimal, bluesy music that fits the general atmosphere of the movie perfectly.
Ki Joo-bong gives a magnificent performance as Mo Geum-san, managing to portray a number of psychological states in laconic fashion, and in a hilarious manner that leaves the rest of the characters constantly stupefied, with much of the film's humor deriving from this particular aspect. Oh Jung-hwan is also quite good as Stephen, highlighting his difference with his father, and his frustration due to his lack of words. Go Won-hee as Ye-won plays the role of the catalyst in moving the relationship of father and son forward, and in that aspect, she functions quite well.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Guest Film Review] "Merry Christmas Mr. Mo""
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