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Original Title:
Naneun Abbada

South Korea 2010

Thriller, Drama

Jeon Man-bae

Kim Seung-woo
Son Byung-ho
Im Ha-ryong
Choi Jeong-yoon
Kim Sae-ron
Cheon Seong-hoon

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I am a Dad

aka I am Father

Story: Han Jong-shik (Kim Seung-woo) is a corrupt detective who has no problems that because of him the wrong guys often end up in jail, as long as it propels his career. More than anything else he is aiming at making as much money as possible. When his daughter (Kim Sae-ron) gets ill and is in need of a heart he knows even less scruples. Because of him the innocent family man Na Sang-man (Son Byung-ho) is put behind bars. Two years later officials uncover by accident that Na is innocent after all. He is released from prison but has to find out that his daughter has died and that his wife is lying in a coma because of a suicide attempt. Now the only thing in his mind is to take revenge on the detective while Jong-shik has to struggle with the internal affairs department. Moreover, he has some issues with a gang he did business with a few times. The police more and more closes in on the truth and Jong-shik's daughter hasn't much time left to live. That's just when Jong-shik is informed that there is a possible organ donor for her: Sang-man's wife...

Review: Really captivating thrillers aren't that numerously to be found in Korea. "I am a Dad" wouldn't have worked as such a movie either but half of the film is also a drama which gives this picture an interesting note. This mix works out surprisingly well and two interesting protagonists manage to carry the rather dark tone of the movie just fine. "I am a Dad" centers around a man who couldn't be any more corrupt and instantly deserves to be hated by us from the bottom of our hearts. Nevertheless, he is also a father who does a lot of the things he does for the sole purpose of saving his daughter. Who could hate him for that? The director toys with this fact in a well achieved manner and so more than once you have to ask yourself in this thriller-drama what good and evil actually means.

However, you also can't make things too easy by judging in favor of the detective. Even before Jong-shik's daughter became ill he was in cahoots with gangsters and put innocent people behind bars without batting an eye. That is also why he already had to cope with a bad stroke of fate. But the detective doesn't learn from his mistakes, instead he more and more sinks in a swamp of corruption. He has a disturbed relationship with his daughter and he seldomly visits her in the hospital as he has to earn the money for her hospital bills. Therefore, Jong-shik remains a bad person - he has always been corrupt. Nonetheless, his love for his daughter is true, even though you seldomly get to see any of it. But this love is what makes it possible for us to relate with the police detective in the first place.

It is always a risk to put a "villain" in the focus of a story since in most cases you are creating an emotional distance to the events on screen by doing this. But director Jeon Man-bae ("The Romantic President") manages to draw Jong-shik three-dimensionally and actor Kim Seung-woo ("Woman on the Beach", "Yesterday") also does his share to leave the viewer in doubt whether Jong-shik might not have pricks of conscience every now and then after all. But every time this thought crosses our mind he does something so brutal or hateful that we are completely writing him off again. He is a man without anywhere to return to. From a certain point onward he has done so many evil deeds that more evil is attracted by him and so he does even bigger mistakes. Thus, if it would be the viewer's decision death would have to await him at the end of his journey.

The actual good guy of the movie is portrayed by Son Byung-ho ("Open City"). An unusual choice since most of the time he has played a villain of the supporting cast. Unfortunately, his character remains way too shallow. The strokes of fate he has to cope with are numerous. When he is sent to jail he shows his goodheartedness and naivity by not wanting any revenge on Jong-shik, contrary to what many others who he put in jail desire. But eventually he breaks down as well and wants to see the police detective dead. He oftentimes has the opportunity to kill him but he hasn't the heart to do so after all. Still, in the end "I am a Dad" is effective in the sense that Son Byung-ho also has something unpredictable about him and we can actually imagine that Sang-man takes his well-deserved revenge.

Sadly, "I am a Dad" lacks structure in the screenplay department and would have profitted of a good investigation story. In fact, there is one embedded when Jong-shik's corrupt doings are about to be uncovered, but it is too short to really matter. Instead the introduction can score since it takes the necessary amount of time for the drama to work out later on. One of the movie's assets is that it features some scenes that remind us of Hong Kong thrillers concerning their cruelty and relentlessness. A well done ending and a nice soundtrack complete the list of positive aspects. Considering the subject of the movie it also isn't surprising that "I am a Dad" gets more touching towards the end, but even this the film manages to pull off quite well. Although not a milestone this is certainly an underrated thriller-drama.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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