Boomerang Family (Goryeonghwa Gajok)

Korea (2013) Dir. Song Hae-Sung

Film director Oh In-Mo (Park Hae-Il) is man going through a crisis. He is flat broke, his last film flopped and his wife has left him. He is about to hang himself when his mother (Youn Yuh-Jung) calls him to come home. When he gets there In-Mo finds his older brother, convicted gangster Han-Mo (Yoon Je-Moon), is there having just been released from jail. Finding it hard enough to get along already, their sister Mi-Yun (Kong Hyo-Jin) arrives with her teenage daughter Min-Kyon (Jin Ji-Hee), having just broken up with her latest partner. It seems that despite being one big family they just can’t get along.

Having made his name with maudlin dramas such as Maundy Thursday, the wrestling biopic Rikidozan and the Korean remake of the Hong Kong classic A Better Tomorrow, Song Hae-Sung tries his hand at comedy with his latest film Boomerang Family. However it seems he can’t leave certain themes behind as this film features two suicide attempts, something which has been the central rubric for at least two of his films. Thankfully they are played for laughs here so no need to get down about them.

Ever since The Simpsons first arrived some twenty-five years ago, the dysfunctional family has proven to be a fertile ground for storytellers across all mediums. It’s fair to say that In-Mo’s brood more than fit into this category, bickering almost immediately with little signs of easing up. First up is Han-Mo who adopted the role of coach potato and is quick to assert his assumed seniority over his younger brother creating unnecessary tension in the process. The arrival of the foul mouthed Mi-Yun and the equally coarse Min-Kyon merely exacerbates the disharmony but mother is pleased to have her flock back with her under one roof. But soon they are all stepping on each other’s toes, with Han-Mo violently interrupting a backseat liaison between Mi-Yun and her newest flame, the seemingly normal Geun-Tae (Kim Young-Jae) only to get a taste of his own medicine courtesy of Mi-Yun.

Meanwhile Min-Kyon is not doing well at school and feels the wrath of her interfering uncles, while In-Mo becomes attracted to Soo-Ja (Ye Ji-Won), the local hairdresser, who also happens to be the object of desire for Han-Mo. And to top it all off, even dear old mum is hiding a big secret of her own when it comes to how she is able to provide such handsome meat dinners for her family. It all comes to ahead when Min-Kyon runs away from home just as Mi-Yun was about to announce her engagement to Geun-Tae, forcing Mi-Yun and the brothers to get off their behinds and work together to bring Min-Kyon home again. Unfortunately this means a return to his criminal ways for Han-Mo which is soon about to catch up with him, putting the whole family in danger.

Korean comedies are an unusual beast in that they rarely last the course as a flat out comedy descending into a dark brooding drama around the halfway mark. Boomerang Family is no different, being a little light on real gut busting laughs, relying more on the dramatic side of things to gets its point across, which might demonstrate where Song Hae-Sung’s true strength lies. What amusement there is ranges form the puerile and tacky – such as Han-Mo caught with a pair of women’s panties over his face while “entertaining” himself – to the subtle – mother sitting quietly sipping her drink with a resigned, despondent look on her face as the rest of the family are involved in a huge brawl in a restaurant.

As the film progresses we learn the history behind the key events leading up to the situation this story is based around. Of course the impetus is, and always was, the family bonds, and no matter how much trouble they cause for each other they are also there for each other, and eventually their problems and differences sort themselves out. This may sound vapid and the sort of fodder that makes up the plot for US TV movies but Song Hae-Sung is not one to pander to insipid clichés and cheap sentimentality to tell his story. Song makes his characters as unpleasant as possible but plausible; I’m sure we can all see at least one person in our own families that is represented here even if the connection is minor or superficial.

Regardless of whether it is a comedy or a drama one thing you can never accuse Korean actors of doing is half-assing their performances. Park Hae-Il applies the same discipline that he showed as the hero in the historical action epic War Of The Arrows as he does in making In-Mo a pathetic if somewhat sympathetic down on his luck guy, while Yoon Je-Moon, who has made his name as the tough guy in numerous other films, has no qualms in aiming low to make Han-Mo as unpleasant as possible – even if that means demonstrating exaggerated bouts of flatulence or wearing female underwear on his face! Veteran Youn Yuh-Jung brings the necessary gravitas as the mother forced into the role being the glue that holds – or at least tries to hold – the family together. Sadly her younger female co-stars, Jin Ji-Hee and Kong Hyo-Jin, do such a convincing job in making their characters utterly obnoxious that it is difficult to feel any warmth towards them.

For a comedy Boomerang Family works best as a drama. The humour is hit and miss which is a given for Korean comedy, but the story is deftly told and as flawed as they are, the characters are engaging enough to keep the viewer watching through to the bitter end. A solid if by the numbers outing.