Director – Hur Jin-ho – 2023 – South Korea – Cert. – 116m
Lacking any moral sense of right and wrong, the teenage children of two brothers, a lawyer and a doctor, kick a homeless man to death – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival 2023 which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 2nd to Thursday, November 16th
After a road rage incident in which an out of order, rich twentysomething wilfully runs down an irate baseball player who objects to his driving, and puts the baseball player’s young daughter in a coma, the twentysomething hires defence lawyer Jae-wan (Sol Kyung-gu from The Boys; Chung Ji-young, 2022; 1987: When That Day Comes, Jang Joon-Hwan, 2017; Memoir Of A Murderer, Won Shin-yeon, 2017; Peppermint Candy, Lee Chang-dong, 2000) who is motivated not by justice but by doing everything he can to get his client off scot-free. Jae-wan has a new, young wife Ji-su (Claudia Kim from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald, David Yates, 2018; The Dark Tower, Nikolaj Arsel, 2017; Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Joss Whedon, 2015) with a small baby and a teenage daughter Hye-yoon (Hong Yi-ji) by his late first wife. His younger brother Jae-gyu (Jang Dong-gun from Friend, Lee Han Dong-su, 2001) is the doctor charged with keeping the young comatose girl alive in hospital and is sickened by Jae-wan’s cynical work ethic, if it can be even called that. He despises his better off brother, while his older wife Yeon-kyung (Kim Hee-ae) hate his attractive, younger wife. The couple have a teenage son Hi-so, whom Hye-yoon often helps with homework.
One night, when Hi-so is supposed to be at home studying while his parents are out for the evening, Hye-yoon takes him to a party where during a game forfeit he drinks a glass of whisky, something he’s not used to. On the way home, both kids kick bags of rubbish in an alleyway. Later, a security camera video goes viral of two teenagers, a boy and a girl, kicking a homeless man to death in that same alleyway, and both sets of parents become convinced the blurry perpetrators are their two kids. (There’s no real question about the identity of the perpetrators in the two sets of parents’ minds; it’s clearly their two kids.) The lawyer wants to cover it up and get them off. The doctor thinks they should turn themselves in to the police. Then their wives, and the men themselves, start shifting their moral positions. What do the kids think about their actions? – and can they face up to their responsibility?
The film, adapted from Herman Koch’s novel The Dinner which has been filmed several times, draws out the situation, milking it for all it’s worth. The overlong script could have benefited from further work and a little pruning prior to shooting. None of these characters seem to possess any moral fibre. While they are clearly selfish, rich, professional types, none of them have any redeeming feature that might render our response to them more complex. They are basically well off and self-obsessed, particularly the lawyer.
The only characters who might (only might, mind you) be seen as decent human beings appear at the edge of the drama, and we don’t really know enough about any of them to be sure of their good or otherwise character. On the one hand there is the comatose car accident victim and her mother, clearly a woman wronged, on the other there is the homeless man and his mother.
But the bulk of the film is about the two brothers, their spouses and their kids – and there’s precious little to care for about any of them.
The film was the festival’s opening gala and was followed by a Q&A with director Hur. Apparently, this is very different from director Hur’s usual fare, as he specialises in romantic dramas, one of which, One Fine Spring Day (2001), is showing in the LKFF 6pm tonight Friday, November 3rd, also with a director Q&A.
A Normal Family plays in LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival 2023 which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 2nd to Thursday, November 16th. Remaining screenings schedule here.
Trailer – One Fine Spring Day: