“A Cruel Attendance” is the latest outing for actor Kim Su Ro, who last split viewers’ sides in the hilarious “Vampire Cop Ricky”, here turning his hand to the slightly more serious subject of kidnapping. Thankfully, debut director Kim Tae Yun (who previously worked on the 2003 romantic comedy “Spring Breeze”) still makes the most of his star’s wacky talents, with face-pulling and gags a-plenty before the film takes its inevitable final reel dive into emotional angst and life lessons.
The plot offers a twist on the usual kidnap caper, following Dong Cheol (Kim Su Ro), a bankrupt man desperately trying to keep up with loan repayments, who accidentally becomes involved with the equally down on his luck Min Ho (Lee Seon Gyun, recently in “The Customer is Always Right”) when the latter impulsively grabs a young girl off the street and attempts to hold her for ransom. After no less than 108 calls to the girl’s parents fail to yield any results and she starts to run a fever, the novice kidnappers give up and dump her at the hospital.
However, driven by increasing financial pressure, the two men are forced to try again, this time snatching a seemingly suitable hostage in the shape of Tae Hee (Ko Eun Ah, “Sunday Seoul”), the daughter of a rich businessman. Unfortunately, she turns out to be a less than ideal captive, and matters take a turn for the worse when Dong Cheol receives a phone call informing him that his own young daughter has been kidnapped by someone who seems to know far more about the crime game than he and his hapless partner.
Although primarily a farce, “A Cruel Attendance” also works in drama, mystery and thriller elements, and with the pressure on wretched protagonist Dong Cheol constantly mounting throughout, it actually makes for fairly tense viewing. Of course, with Kim Su Ro in the lead role, the emphasis is still on humour, though the jokes are less of the slapstick variety than might have been expected, and indeed the tone of the film is quite bleak, being a comedy of errors with an underlying theme of social injustice. This does give things a certain edge, and although the proceedings are frequently very funny, director Kim manages to prevent the buffoonery from undermining the driving narrative too much, and keeps the film focused rather than letting it degenerate into nonsense.
Although no one could ever mistake “A Cruel Attendance” for serious social commentary, it is a little more ambitious than first meets the eye, and does at least make an effort to provide more than simple laughs. The film to a large extent relies upon the chemistry between Kim and Lee, and the two combine quite well as a likeable pair of incompetents. For a film of this sort, their characters are well enough fleshed out, with just enough depth to add a touch of sympathy for their plight and to make the viewer hope that somehow their schemes will turn out well, or at least not too badly, as seems increasingly likely.
The film does take a somewhat moralistic turn towards during the latter stages, which never really rings true due to the fact that whilst it is one thing to feel sorry for Dong Cheol and to laugh at his antics, it is quite another to actually think that his turning to kidnapping was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, director Kim seems to have a sudden attack of guilt at having spent most of the running time making light of the subject, and uses the last couple of scenes to hammer home the painfully obvious message that kidnapping is not a victimless act, and that, surprise, surprise, crime does not pay.
Thankfully, Kim and the film recovers in time to finish things off in a satisfying manner rather than going for a cop out happy ending. As such, this sudden flash of sentiment is only a minor slip in what proves to be a very entertaining film, and one which again confirms the film’s star, Kim Su Ro, as one of the funniest men working in Korean cinema today.
Kim Tae-yoon (director) / Ki Seung-tae (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Soo-ro