Monday, September 2, 2013

KOFFIA Review 2013: Boomerang Family / 고령화 가족

The words boomerang and family to some may be terms that have no relation whatsoever. However Song Hae-seong’s Boomerang Family defines the colloquialism in an approach that is relatable to all. It is often said that no matter what we will return to our families - from cradle to grave we’re bound by binds of blood, intimacy and inherent nature. This is the setting of Song Hae-seong’s familiar plot. The insight to this Korean family; made up of siblings who constantly quarrel and a mother who harbours a million and one secrets is not so unfamiliar that they could even be Australian, Arabic or even Azerbaijani! But it’s the Korean character’s nuances that make this film differ from recognizable cinematic narratives.

Take for example the brains of the family, our lead man, movie director Oh In-mo played by Park Hae-il who was the golden child of the miserable 202 (their apartment number) family come home as a sort of prodigal son because his directorial debut movie flopped. As the lead man you’re constantly questioning why he “boomerang-ed” back. Was it his mother’s chicken juk? Or was it that his life had become so complacent he was drawn back to good ‘ol family drama? As a character I never understood his motives – the other two siblings seem to be more active in this family situation -in both physical and emotional investment. Perhaps director Song wanted to highlight that not all golden children fulfill filial duties nor do they contribute anything substantial to the family. Furthermore perhaps their family’s over caring is the foundation of their impending failure.

The other two siblings: Han-mo (Yoon Je-moon) and yeodongsaeng Mi-Yeon (Kong Hyo-jin) negate the resentment I held for their brother. They sustain the film. Essentially director Song presents two stereotypes: the gangster hyeong and the somewhat lovewreck/promiscuous little sister. However the acting of these two parts quashes every expectation and precedent. Yoon Je-moon is at times sensitive and endearing as the misunderstood oldest child of the Oh family. The start of the film shows him still living with Mother not out of dependence but out of sincere love and gratitude – and his repeated saviour brother moments with In-mo really yank at the heart of someone who has always wanted older brother. The comedy he garners in almost every scene keeps the film at its light-hearted best.

Mi-Yeon boomerangs back to the family at the end of another doomed marriage; with her is her only child Min-kyeong (Jin Ji-hee). A place she sees to recuperate and at the same time palm off her maternal duties to her own mother. The breadwinner of the family, her financial standing is much better than her mother and her two older brothers although her source of income is only revealed to us at the end. She is perhaps the most “normal” one in the family. What is interesting about her is her standing in the family - in my favourite scene of the film she makes it a point that she is the one who contributes the most financially. In-mo is displeased by this and publically embarrasses her at a restaurant causing the two to have a heated and loud argument which prompts the other restaurant-goers telling them to shut up. Too much soju mixed with emotional family scars leads to the whole family engaging in a brawl with the restaurant-goers. The scene is quite eloquent and is a sad reminder that at the end of it all – family is all we have.  

Amidst it is their mother (Yoon Yeo-jeong). A harbourer of a million and one secrets; she’s your typical Korean mother – she cooks yachae soondubu (silky tofu stew), gives you money to go to the jjimjilbang (public bathhouse) and does whatever she can to support the family she loves and cherishes. She is a noteworthy highlight of the whole film and I would get a little teary-eyed after a scene of hers. Her calm nature and her altruistic deeds for her children are believable and far removed from the caricature you were expecting. There is a certain warmth she brought to the screen every time the shot focused on her which makes her the most memorable character of Boomerang Family. A character you’ll find yourself constantly empathising with.

Just when you thought your family was normal – there is Boomerang Family and it’s at the end of the film that we realise what Mother Oh said is actually true. “Live, eat, sleep under the one roof, cry and laugh together…that’s what a family is”. Director Song has truly captured this basic principle and we leave the film with a humbling realization that although family dynamics change little, food brings a family together … especially samgyupsal (Korean grilled pork belly) … well a dysfunctional Korean family in this case!

By Genesis Mansilongan

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