Doo-yeong (played by Do Kyung-soo) is an up-and-coming judo athlete with hopes of competing in the Olympics. He suffers an awful turn of luck, as his coach Soo-hyeon (played by Park Shin-hye) watches, horrified and helpless. Then we cut to Doo-sik (played by Jo Jung-suk) who is pretty clearly putting on a show- one where the other side is unwilling to call his bluff. So it is that the two half-brothers are reunited.
The performances in "My Annoying Brother" are quite convincing. Do Kyung-soo excels as a young man who hates himself, and Jo Jung-suk is equally effective as a man who should hate himself. The disrespect with which Doo-sik treats and is treated by other characters is quite gratifying. It's telling how Doo-sik's inevitable change of heart is less a matter of humility and more the begrudging realization that he needs to compromise somewhere.
This leads into the movie's middle act, which is by far the best, as it gives us a series of comical scenes wherein Doo-sik attempts to help Doo-yeong in rather questionable ways. The specific outcomes of these adventures is not important so much as the brotherly bonding that happens while the scenes are going on. These setpieces, in addition to being funny in their own right, are also an excellent demonstration of the old maxim of how it's the thought that counts.
Then, right when that whole aspect of the story is getting good, writer Yoo Yeong-ah throws up a drama bomb that left me less than impressed. In the first place, outside of vague genre standards and the revelation being prompted by the resolution of a previous setpiece, the tonal shift comes out of nowhere. But more than that the plot twist is insanely harsh to the point of being implausible, all for the sake of building us up to a rather mawkish and maudlin ending.
The central dynamic that makes the Doo-yeong / Doo-sik relationship interesting is that both characters are cynical and mean for completely different reasons. While the premise of the movie sets the stage for their changing one another in a positive way, ultimately, it is only through conscious effort that this change happens. By reusing tragedy to advance the conflict instead of focusing on the characters, "My Annoying Brother" turns into exactly the cliché story that was implicitly mocked in Doo-sik's first scene.
This, after all, is why Soo-hyeon is not able to affect change in Doo-yeong on her own. Because Soo-hyeon is a fundamentally sentimental character, Doo-yeong does not consider her to be particularly relevant. That Doo-sik also has this same opinion is part of the spark that allows them to bond, even though Soo-hyeon's opinion is obviously correct and the brothers are obviously wrong. The logic is completely counter-intuitive, and I really wish the screenwriting had followed through on that train of thought instead of just turning into melodrama.
Incidentally, there is surprisingly little explanation or exposition of judo in "My Annoying Brother", even though the climax involves Doo-yeong competing in a judo tournament. Take from that what you will.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Blu-ray HK (En Sub)
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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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "My Annoying Brother" + Video"
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