Myeong-seok (played by Kam Woo-sung) and Myeong-gyoo (played by Kim Soo-ro) are a couple of brothers with the usual problems associated with middle age. Mostly it's a matter of money. As it happens, their father Joong-yeop (played by Shin Goo) has a decent amount of land, and is close to dying. But as a man whose hometown lies on the wrong side of the Korean border, Joong-yeop dreams of reunification, and meeting a daughter Joong-yeop has not seen since her infancy. So Myeong-seok and Myeong-gyoo do the natural thing in the situation, and concoct an elaborate scam to trick their father into thinking reunification is just around the corner.
The immediate obvious problem with "A Bold Family" is that the very premise is essentially quite cruel, and it's difficult to see the familial conspiracy designed to manipulate Joong-yeop's feelings as being anything except, well, cruel and manipulative. The financial motive instantly puts the ethical countenance of all the characters in doubt, the lone exception being Myeong-seok's daughter (played by Byeon Joo-hyeon) who has no idea what's happening or why but is happy to see her grandfather enjoying his final days.
That basic element of preposterous lie being told for the greater good is the main moral thread holding "A Bold Family" together. It works mostly because the question of Korean Reunification, and with it the reunion of families unfortunately separated by the artifical border is a genuinely sad and unresolvable one. Whatever the original motives of the familial conspiracy, by the end one major lie is necessary to give their father at least some final comfort.
I was also touched by "A Bold Family" simply by looking at this movie ten years after its original release, and thinking about what's happened since then politically. Ten years ago, movies discussing North Korea involved silly stupid jokes and even had a heavy sense of irony about how it only takes a single dispute over something stupid like the Northern Limit Line to grind all reunification talks to a halt. Whereas today, North Korea is almost always potrayed as an unforgivably horrific Stalinist cesspool.
"A Bold Family" as a film reflects this same awkward contradiction. I hesitate to really call this a good movie, owing to the rather sadistic nature of the comedy, and yet it rather accurately portrays North Korea as a mysterious far-off place South Koreans are quite incapable of comprehending. It's no wonder Joong-yeop feels so defeated by the extended separation from his family, because Joong-yeop feels tremendous guilt for failing to be around. Political excuses don't cut it.
It does need to be noted that "A Bold Family" is not accurate about North Korea persay so much as it is accurate in portraying the kind of ludicrous assumptions South Koreans make about North Koreans. The financial element of the conspiracy is also a probably unintentional commentary on how in capitalist societies money is the only way to get anything done. Objectively, though, when all the political elements are accounted for, "A Bold Family" is just an average comedy with a decent emotional punch in the final scenes- more interesting analytically than it probably is to actually watch.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Bold Family" + DVD Giveaway"
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