Using comedy to comment on society and themes like family is not exactly an easy task, since the balance between commentary and entertainment is rather difficult to retain. However, Shin Sang-ok accomplishes just that with an easiness that is emblematic of his value as a filmmaker (let's not get into the controversy of his history again).
The rather unusual, stage-play style and also surrealistic initial sequence allows the characters to introduce themselves to the audience, starting with Romantic Papa himself, whose five children call him like that due to his mellow and sentimental nature, but also because they frequently treat him as if he was senile, although in a loving manner. The style of the movie, which is soon revealed as a rather large collection of episodes revolving around the family members and their acquaintances, begins here, with the number of characters introduced being extravagant, at least to the eye of someone who cannot distinguish the actors. The various episodes start immediately after, with each one making a comment about the then Korean society, while a kind of light drama (not in context, but in approach) takes over the last part of the movie, as we watch Romantic Papa coming in terms with his age and corporate reality.
The episodes may be too many, but each one individually is quite interesting, through a combination of hilarity and occasionally pointy social commentary. The concept of the first born and the privileges he enjoys in the patriarchic family comes to the fore through a dialogue between oldest son Eo-jin and younger Ba-reun, after Romantic Papa decides to buy a pair of shoes for the latter. One of the daughters, Gob-dan, cannot hang out much with her friends due to her family's low income, a concept that functions as a comment about the then rapidly developing Korean economy and the complications those who did not jump on the train faced.
The concept of arranged marriage is also presented through the older son and one of the daughters, Woo-taek, with the former dating an actress and the latter eventually introducing her boyfriend and announcing that she is about to marry him. The way three of the children decide to play a game between Romantic Papa and their mother highlights the way relationships were arranged and functioned during the then previous generation, with the way the youths trick their parents to express their real feelings for each other being one of most delightful parts of the movie. The dialogue for the weather, and particularly the fact that prediction is difficult because North Korea does not allow knowledge to the South about the conditions there, is another hilarious scene that also highlights the relationship between the two countries.
Lastly, the last part has Romantic Papa realizing the physical limitations that come with his age, while the treatment his company reserves for him highlights the cruelty surrounding the corporate world. The consequences of the company's decision are highlighted in the best fashion by his reactions, as he almost loses it completely and only manages to survive due to his children's help. Kim Seung-ho-I's performance in the role is excellent, but this part is truly where his acting in the movie finds its apogee.
From the rest of the cast, Ju Jeung-ryu as his wife, who expresses her love through almost constant nagging, Kang-Shin Sung-il as Ba-reun who highlights the fact that he is smarter than his older brother but unlucky because he was born second, and Choi Eun-hee as rebellious Eum-jeon give the most memorable performances, although none of the actors actually lacks.
Jeong Hae-jun's cinematography makes the most of the house and the courtyard most of the film takes place, in a style that also resembles stage play. The outside scenes that dominate the last part are also quite artful, while a sense of realism permeates the whole visual aspect of the production. Kim Yeong-hie's editing induces the film with a medium pace that suits its aesthetics, but the number of episodes and the length of the movie (131 minutes) definitely needed a trimming down.
Despite its duration, "A Romantic Papa" is an excellent movie that functions both as a source of entertainment and as a guide of the era, both directly and indirectly, with the latter approach deriving from the comments the episodes subtly communicate.
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