“Papa” is a Korean film with a musical flavour, following popular actor Park Yong Woo (“Handphone”) as a rogue who ends up taking care of a family of multi-racial kids and trying to help a young girl to fulfil her dreams as a singer. Starring alongside him and showing off her own singing and dancing skills is SM Entertainment’s up and coming actress Go Ara, who found fame in television series such as “No Limit” and “Snow Flower”, and recently also featured in the film “Pacemaker”. Directed by Han Ji Seung (“Venus and Mars”), the film was shot mostly in America and partly in the English language, and also includes an appearance from heartthrob Daniel Henney.
Park Yong Woo plays Choon Seob, a down on his luck talent manager who fled Korea for America some years back after trouble with one of his stars. Unfortunately, the contract marriage he enters into in order to get a residency permit turns out to be short lived after his wife dies, leaving him no less than six children from her many previous marriages, all of whom are from different races. The children have been taken care of for some time by the eldest daughter June (Go Ara), who is hiding an amazing talent as a singer and dancer. Desperate for money, Choon Seob pushes her to enter a talent contest, and she agrees, hoping to find a way to keep their family together.
Whether or not you enjoy “Papa” really depends on what you’re looking for, as Han’s film is from the very start an openly melodramatic, sentimental and feel good affair. All the elements and clichés of the genre are present and correct, with the initially rascally Choon Seob slowly but surely learning life lessons as he warms to the kids and changes his ways, becoming a better person in the process. Family is the main theme here, Han extolling the virtues of sacrifice and of people supporting and taking care of each other, the film’s main drama stemming from the question of whether or not the children will be split up and sent to orphanages without a proper guardian. This is mixed in with an idealistic belief in following your dreams, and though there are plenty of tears and ups and downs along the way, the film has an unabashedly upbeat air, with plenty of pop songs and musical montage interludes on the way to its big concert finale.
There’s no doubt that all of this will be pretty grating for some viewers, not least since the film is packed full of cutesy kids, each of whom has their own supposedly charming gimmick or talent. The multi-racial angle is frankly a bit strange, and feels very much like it was shoe-horned into the film without much thought other than using it to further demonstrate kindness and acceptance. However, Han certainly embraces this, going all out with the heartstring-tugging and sappy silliness, and for those on the right wavelength the film is likely to be moving and fun. Even for those annoyed by its predictability and saccharine sweetness, it’s hard to deny that the film is a genuinely warm and compassionate affair, and though simplistic, it’s impossible to argue with its well-intentioned messages.
Giving the film a considerable lift are headline stars Park Yong Woo and Go Ara, both of whom manage to bring a touch of depth to their thinly written characters. Park does a great job in a fairly typical part, making Choon Seob a likeable fool, and though his redemptive journey is entirely inevitable, it’s more engaging than it probably should be. Go Ara shines in a role which seems suspiciously tailored to her talents, attaining a decent emotional range and maturity, and impressing with her singing and dancing. This is just as well, as the film suffers from a western supporting cast made up of the usual non-actors and amateurs, with some fairly dreadful performances, and a script filled with odd lines and stilted dialogue (a case in point being some of the bizarre ‘yo’ heavy crimes against rap perpetrated by the young boys).
Still, for those won over by its big heart and abundance of positive vibes, “Papa” should make for enjoyable and affecting viewing, even more so if they enjoy bouncy pop music. Director Han Ji Seung succeeds in his modest ambitions, and though anyone looking for something grounded and gritty would be best to steer clear, as a family friendly piece of fluff, the film largely manages to tick all the right boxes,
Ji-Seung Han (director) / Ji-Seung Han (screenplay)
CAST: Yong-woo Park … Chun-Seob
Peyton Townsend … Jimmy
Parker Townsend … Tommy
Angela Azar … Rosie
Meg Kelley … Maya
Ara Goh … June