Korean director Song Hae Sung has had a very interesting career which has seen him tackle a variety of social and (often multi) cultural issues in different ways, from his award winning Choi Min Sik and Cecilia Cheung starring “Failan” through to his recent “A Better Tomorrow” remake. Based on a novel by Cheon Myung Gwan, his latest offering “Boomerang Family” is on the surface a lighter and more comic affair, dealing with a group of nearly middle aged siblings who return home to live with their aging mother. Playing the family are a fittingly eclectic and impressive cast, which includes Park Hae Il (“War of the Arrows”), Kong Hyo Jin (“Love Fiction”), Yoon Je Moon (“Dangerously Excited”) and Yoon Yeo Jeong (“The Taste of Money”), joined by young actress Jin Ji Hee (“Moon That Embraces the Sun”). Like most of Song’s works, the film went down well with the critics at home, and has played to praise at a variety of international festivals, as well as being picked up for distribution in the UK by Third Window Films.
The film opens with Park Hae Il as 40-year-old financially struggling and failed film director In Mo, who is just about to kill himself when he receives a call from his mother (Yoon Yeo Jeong). In need of comforts, he heads home, only to find his brutish older brother Han Mo (Yoon Je Moon) already living there after being released following another stint behind bars. The brothers are soon joined by their sister Mi Yun (Kong Hyo Jin), fresh from her second divorce and with her rebellious teen daughter Min Kyung in tow. Despite their mother’s attempts to make them play house, the three siblings are soon at each other’s throats, taking out their frustrations as they try to get their wretched lives back together.
While it might sound like a fairly typical wacky Korean comedy, and though it does have its fair share of slapstick humour, there’s definitely more going on with “Boomerang Family”. This is very much in keeping with most of Song Hae Sung’s works, and he does a good job here of managing to balance quirky gags and banter with more serious concerns, the film emerging as an effective mix of laughs, character drama and commentary on the state of the modern Korean family. Certainly, although In Mo, Han Mo and Mi Yun along with their mother and Min Kyung make for an exceptionally dysfunctional unit, they’re always believable as a family, and this proves crucial in the film’s success in allowing Song to switch into heavy mode when needed.
The film does cover some adult and surprisingly grim ground, dealing not only with failed love, dashed dreams and financial hardship, but also porn, forced prostitution and gangsters, ensuring that even its lighter moments have their dark side. As a result, it’s a lot more convincing when tackling the complexities and absurdities of family relationships and life, and makes for an intelligent challenging of norms and notions of the traditional Korean household.
The film also benefits from some solid character work and performances from the cast, Song getting grounded though amusing turns from all the leads, in particular the downtrodden and increasingly desperate Park Hae Il, and Yoon Yeo Jeong, in a much less cruel role than she’s played of late as the loving though ambiguous mother. The cast all have an enjoyable chemistry, making their bickering a lot of fun to watch, with some funny scenes as they variously scheme against and assault each other. There’s nothing too silly here, and the film’s effectiveness as a leftfield comedy helps to distract from some of its more clichéd aspects, especially towards the end as it builds towards a rather conventional wrap up through a series of not terribly well-handled twists and revelations.
Despite its narrative lapses, “Boomerang Family” is definitely one of the better and more distinctive Korean comedy dramas of late, and much more accomplished than most of its more melodramatic brethren. Song Hae Sung is always an interesting director to watch, and the film is another solid entry on his CV, which should be enjoyed both by fans of the form and viewers looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
Hae-sung Song (director) / Hae-sung Song (screenplay)
CAST: Ji-hee Jin … Min-kyeong
Hyo-jin Kong … Mi-yeon
Hae-il Park … In-mo
Yeo-jeong Yoon … Mom
Je-mun Yun … Han-mo