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Original Title:
Ma-i pa-deo

South Korea 2007


Hwang Dong-hyeuk

Daniel Henney
Kim Yeong-cheol
Kim In-kwon
Ahn Seok-hwan
Choi Jong-ryeol
Kim Dong-ah
Moon Jae-won
Kim Kwang-sik
Yoon Won-seok
Jo Seok-hyeon
Brian F. Durkin
Richard Riehle
Sarah Mack

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My Father

Story: James Parker (Daniel Henney) has been adopted by an american family when he was a little child. Now, he wants to search for his roots and find his biological parents. Therefore, he joins the US Army in order to get sent to an american military base in Korea, where he serves his country. This way he can look for his parents. To speed things up he also appears in a TV show that helps people find their real parents. Soon thereafter, a priest contacts him, telling him that he knows his father. With a gigantic bunch of reporters at his side James eventually meets his father Hwang Nam-chul (Kim Yeong-cheol), who, however, is on death row. James gets to know from his father that he is actually innocent, and so James collects signatures against the death penalty. Yet, he hasn't much success and also finds out that his mother isn't alive anymore.
While James still tries to prevent his father's execution, Hwang searches for a picture of his wife, because his son asked him for a photo of his mother. Nonetheless, this proves to be more difficult than expected as Hwang has some secrets he hides from his son...

Review: It wasn't easy to watch "My Father" without prejudice. The reason for this is heartthrob and ex-model Daniel Henney, who takes on the lead role in this movie. Just by mentioning his name girls faint by the dozen. And this even though he only speaks English in his films and stands out solely with his good looks. At least women say that he looks gorgeous... But is beauty really a talent? Henney's acting achievement (if you really want to call it like that) in "Seducing Mr. Perfect" left no doubt for me that he has no talent at all. Therefore, I was biased when checking out this movie and... got positively surprised. Daniel Henney's acting improved quite a lot, even that much, that you can actually believe him some of his emotional outbursts. I for my part, didn't find him bothersome in "My Father" and that's saying something. Unfortunately, "My Father" is nothing more than a tearjerker drama of good mediocrity, that won't stick to you for long.

Right at the beginning of the film it is pointed out that the story is based on true events. This sounds promising, and thus we somehow expect that this drama can wring a tear or two from its audience.
James Parker has been raised in America and wants to go to Korea to find his real parents. It remains a mystery, though, for what exact reason he has to join the US Army to do so. His parents surely would have given him the money for a flight to Korea. Anyway, Parker soon finds his father, but he finds him being on death row. Actually, this should have been a shock, but it never is displayed or has the emotional impact of such. Yet, the director passes some hidden criticism on the media, that asks Parker to hug his father and tell him that he loves him, even though Parker sees his dad for the very first time and supposedly is in a merry-go-round of different emotions at that moment. Therefore, it's even the more odd and unbelievable when he actually accommodates the request.

Standing in the movie's center, as the title implies, is the relationship between father and son, of course. Sadly, it isn't brought into play as complex as it should have been. For once this is because of Hwang's character, which always has something mysterious and inscrutable to it, so that we can't be sure until the second half of the movie, if he is just playing an act for James in order to have a chance to elude his execution, or if his feelings are actually sincere. Actor Kim Yeong-cheol ("A Bittersweet Life") manages to bestow a certain ambiguity upon his role, yet, unfortunately, this ambiguity is also passed on the relationship between father and son. There are enough reasons to blame Hwang for certain actions of his, and thus also James has to overcome a crisis or two, but all in all, and despite some twists, their relationship remains an idealized one. This is why the drama isn't as grasping as it could have been and becomes a simple tearjerker drama in the end, which had the potential to be much more than that and also could have been more multi-layered.

"My Father" makes a few steps into the right direction, Hwang's character is indeed quite complex and even Daniel Henney manages to express his inner conflict through a few emotions during some scenes. But all of this drowns in a script that apparently solely aims at creating a melodramatic movie that is appealing to all audiences and is supposed to move you to tears. This has the effect that "My Father" doesn't feel genuine and even seems unnecessarily artificial at times.
Moreoever, it has to be pointed out that at least one quarter of the film has been shot in English. Of course, this means that some of the Korean actors have to struggle with the english language, which as we all know isn't their strength in general, but it actually works out better than expected. However, it does get a bit painful when it comes to the american actors, as it becomes apparent just when they appear on screen that they are no real actors. Some of the dialogues are also bad, but luckily these moments aren't too often.

On a side note, "My Father" also deals with topics like the cold relationship between Korea and America, as well as death penalty. Sadly, these themes are really just dealt with marginally and the director refrains from diving deeper into the subject. Which brings us to a strange scene in which James tells his father that he tried everything in his power to prevent him from being executed. It's just that the viewer didn't really see much of his efforts...
In the end, the movie is quite appealing on a technical level, but it never succeeds in standing as something special. The tearjerker drama, as well as the movie's twist remain rather predictable and the amount to which the film can actually move you is only to a little extent. Hwang's character is interesting, but you could have brought out more of his person. Again, Daniel Henney's achievement is surprisingly good, and the scenes during the credits, which show video material of the true case of Aaron Bates, are somewhat touching. However, all of this isn't enough to hide the fact that this is simply mediocre, even though appealing stuff.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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