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My Brilliant Life - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Du-geun-du-geun nae in-saeng

South Korea 2014


Lee Jae-yong

Kang Dong-won
Song Hye-kyo
Jo Seong-mok
Baek Il-seob
Heo Joon-seok
Kim So-jin

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My Brilliant Life

My Brilliant Life - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Seventeen year old Dae-soo (Kang Dong-won) is a member of a taekwondo club, but other than that he doesn't know what to do with his life. One day he meets Mi-ra (Song Hye-kyo), who is of the same age as him, and the two become a couple. However, Mi-ra immediately gets pregnant. Even though their parents are against it the two decide to have the baby. Dae-soo runs away from home and now works as a taxi driver. Mi-ra works at a laundry. The two need money since their son Ah-reum (Jo Seong-mok) suffers from progeria, a rare disease which makes him age almost ten times faster than usual. Despite the illness the family is happy, but Ah-reum is seventeen now, which means that he doesn't have long to live anymore. His age-related symptoms get worse and worse and the treatment expenses higher and higher. Through an old acquaintance, tv producer Seung-chan (Heo Joon-seok), Ah-reum's fate is brought to tv. The viewing figures are quite high and the donations by the viewers greatly help the family. Meanwhile, Ah-reum has to stay in hospital again, but he doesn't only have his family that supports him as well as his neighbor Mr. Jang (Baek Il-seob), but also an unknown friend, who mails him since she saw him on tv. Still, Ah-reum can't escape his fate...

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Review: From the very get-go there are no illusions about how "My Brilliant Life" will end - with a lot of tissues. But this doesn't suffice to describe this consistently well-achieved drama. Because there are also a few additional levels of meaning hidden within the movie. Particularly the way it toys with the manipulation of its viewers - which is just so typical for this kind of flick - on a meta level makes you nod your head commendatory. Apart from that the drama also tries to be less teary than you probably would expect. Instead of death and suffering life, love and family are put into the foreground. That works out well, especially thanks to charismatic actors. Still, the movie doesn't manage to come without its share of weaknesses. After all, the screenplay seems a bit overloaded and without orientation.

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As is the case with so many tearjerking dramas, "My Brilliant Life" starts with a lot of funny scenes, which help to portray the family with all its pecularities. We have the father who is still into girlbands and actually would like to snatch the videogame from his son's hands in order to play it himself. And there is the girlish mother, who is far less the voice of reason than you would expect. The young parents give the movie drive and pep and Kang Dong-won ("The Priests", "Secret Reunion") as well as Song Hye-kyo ("A Reason to Live", "Full House") are very charismatic in their roles and manage making us instantly take the family in our hearts. They also convince in the more dramatic scenes towards the end.

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It would be unfair to say that this is once again one of those movies that introduces the relationship between the individual characters with a lot of humor during the first half only to head completely into the drama direction from the second half onwards. Because we know from the start that progeria is an illness that simply leads to death. If you are old, you die. This simple truth runs through the whole film and questions about the why apparently aren't even allowed to be raised by a child that is well over 80 way too soon. Furthermore, it's not really as if "My Brilliant Life" isn't funny towards the end at all anymore. It's just that priorities clearly have shifted and you actually won't be laughing out loud like in the beginning anymore. But as already said, you know from the very first minute what you get for your money here.

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Which is most likely one of its biggest issues. There is a certain predictability, although director Lee Jae-yong ("Untold Scandal", "Dasepo Naughty Girls") tries his best not to let his work slip into too much clichés of the tearjerking drama genre, narration-wise as well as in cinematic terms. Some scenes are flooded with sunlight, there is snow, the nighttime starry sky - in other words, at first glance director Lee in fact presents some clichés, but he maneuvers through the worst of them skillfully. Which goes hand in hand with a few oddities. In the beginning the love story between the teenage parents is quite irritating which seems to be interspersed rather unmotivatedly every now and then. Later on, it is picked up again and seems to serve the purpose of being a romantic counterweight to the themes of mortality and impending death. It works out partially at least.

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Also laudable are a few subplots like the tv show that wants to profit from the boy's illness and knows how to manipulate its viewers. Apart from that the parents also know how to use the tv show for their purposes. There is also a filmmaker who exploits Ah-reum and thus elevates the story to an interesting meta level. Ah-reum's friendship to Mr. Jang is nice, too, but not later than when Dae-soo's father enters the stage as well, it becomes obvious that the screenplay should have been kept simpler. And also shorter, because from a certain point during the end of the second third onwards the movie doesn't exactly seem to know what direction it's heading. Fortunately, things get better towards the end. However, words of praise are due when it comes to Jo Seong-mok's great acting, who succeeds in bringing in line the boyish character traits of his personality with the ones of a more elderly individual. The fantastic make-up effects also add to the character. Ultimately, "My Brilliant Life" is a tearjerking drama which romanticized tone covers the more cliché-heavy aspects well, thus justifying a recommendation.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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