“Meet Mr Daddy” is an unashamedly sentimental comedy about a sick young girl who is reunited with her incompetent though wacky criminal father – pretty much the last kind of film to be expected from Korean helmer Park Kwang Su, best known for his politically charged works such as “Chilsoo and Mansoo” and “Black Republic”. Thankfully, the acclaimed director, returning to the screen for his first feature since 1999, hasn’t completely abandoned his trademark gritty approach, and he adds somewhat more substance to the film than might have been expected given the rather lightweight sounding premise.
The ‘Mr Daddy’ of the film’s title is Jong Dae (Park Shin Yang, also in “The Big Swindle” and “Lovers in Paris”), a lowlife conman and gangster who lives in a ramshackle caravan in a junkyard by the sea. Not exactly ideal father material, he is understandably shocked when he is visited during one of his frequent stints behind bars by a social worker who informs him that he has a seven year old daughter (Seo Shin Ae) seemingly desperate to see him before she is put up for adoption. Although he has no memory of her, after being promised his freedom and some money for looking after the poor girl for a month he eagerly accepts, only to find his life turned upside down by the precocious, though unfortunately ill youngster.
“Meet Mr Daddy” is a film which takes a while to hit its stride, being fairly plotless for the first hour or so, with Jong Dae simply dragging his daughter around without making any real effort to interact with her. An odd and wretched man given to pulling crazy faces at the drop of a hat and who is fond of striking ridiculous poses in the privacy of his own home, he makes for a predictably awful father who is completely oblivious to the girl’s obvious illness. Sadly, he proves to be an even worse criminal, spending most of his time hiding out or being threatened by his psychotic boss for repeatedly failing at even the most rudimentary of tasks. Of course, the question as to whether Mr Daddy will clean up his act is a largely rhetorical one, though director Park does at least make his transition a gradual and believable one, allowing for a satisfying if rather inevitable conclusion, complete with tacked on ‘one year later’ epilogue just to hammer home the point.
The film works slowly and patiently at drawing the viewer into the story and the characters, eventually creeping up with a surprisingly potent emotional punch. After the initial tomfoolery things get grittier and even violent as the film progresses, lending the proceedings a very welcome edge and an effective sense of danger. The final act sees the expected swan-dive into melodrama, though Park manages to handle the tears and last minute emotional outpourings with a modicum of subtlety and dignity. All things considered, the film does have a reasonable amount of substance, at least more so than others of its ilk, providing some commentary on the nature of family and working well as an honest attempt to relate a story of painfully human frailty.
This aside, the film generally skirts by thanks to a winning sense of humour, which mostly revolves around jokes at Jong Dae’s expense, though with less of the usual reliance on slapstick. There are also a fair number of cute kid gags and moments, though these fit in pretty well since the youngster is clearly far more mature than her useless father.
Undoubtedly a lesser work by a director who has been responsible for several of the most interesting Korean films of the last few decades, “Meet Mr Daddy” is however not without its own charms, and though lacking in substance, it entertains and tugs at the heartstrings in a pleasant enough fashion. Whilst it is certainly hoped that Park will return to his earlier style of film making in the future, he does show here that he is perfectly capable of churning out more accessible fare with an effort that is certainly superior to other similar genre entries.
Park Kwang-soo (director) / Park Kwang-soo, Park Chae-woon, Kim Eun-kyeong (screenplay)
CAST: Park Shin-yang, Ye Ji-won, Seo Sin-ae, Ryoo Seung-soo