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South Korea 2007


Jang Jin

Cha Seung-won
Ryu Deok-hwan
Kim Ji-yeong
Lee Sang-hoon
Lee Moon-soo
Lee Han-wi

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My Son

aka A Day with my Son

Story: Lee Gang-sik (Cha Seung-won) sits in jail with a life sentence because of robbery and murder. His good behavior the last 15 years earns him the opportunity to be released for one day and visit his family. But how will his son (Ryu Deok-hwan), whom he let down when he was three years old at the time Lee had to go to prison, react? What should he say to him, anyway? How can he apologize for missing out on his son's childhood?
The first meeting of father and son is very cold. Being accompanied by a warden all the time Gang-sik gets some insight into the life of his son and also meets his own mother who has gone senile and is taken care of by his son. For Gang-sik's son, though, his father is nothing more than a stranger and a criminal. Gang-sik himself doesn't know how to connect to his son and therefore thinks that it's best to withhold his feelings. However, there isn't much time left for the two to tell each other what their feelings are and what they think of one another.

Review: There actually aren't that many directors that can stay in business longer than a mayfly. Jang Jin is one of those few people. With movies like "Guns and Talks" or "Someone Special" he already proved his talent, but his true strength comes to the foreground in his scripts. He already wrote the screenplays to "Ditto", "Welcome to Dongmakgol" and "Going by the Book". In "My Son" he is responsible for the directing as well as the script. Thus, you can actually expect high quality cinema here. In fact, his drama proves to be above average, even though it goes a bit manipulative ways at times. The honest emotions which are above everyone else carried very well by Cha Seung-won and the story that makes it very easy to empathize with the characters and also comes along with a well done twist can easily make you overlook this fact. At the end, "My Son" just strikes the right notes and actually that's all what a good drama has to succeed in.

First off, I have to laudate Jang Jin for putting a murderer into the center of his film. He also doesn't take any easy way out the first time an opportunity shows. It may be hinted at that Gang-sik wasn't in his clear mind at the time he committed his crime, but his actions aren't excused by anything and Gang-sik never tries to justify himself. Because he knows better than anyone else that this isn't possible. With such a character Jang Jin gives his actor a heavy burden to shoulder, of course. How is a murder supposed to win over the viewer's heart, anyway? Luckily, Cha Seung-won ("Eye for an Eye", "Blood Rain", "Kick the Moon") manages to do exactly that. He is a man who can hardly show his true feelings. Still, we see it simmer within him and sooner or later his emotions have to burst out, of course. This subtle acting is also responsible for asking ourselves if it actually isn't possible to change and maybe have paid for one's sins sometime. Anyway, Gang-sik is soon taken into the viewer's heart.

It would be rather difficult to look into Gang-sik's inside if we wouldn't get to know more about his emotional state and his thoughts through some inner monologues. What's irritating then is that some other characters of the film also convey their thoughts via such monologues. Only when it comes to the main character this stylistic device seems to be really necessary. It's just through this that the director manages to raise the emotional tension more and more until he later on lets it dissolve in tears. The audience is almost yearning for this moment. Also worthy of praise is that there are almost no cheesy words expressing the characters' emotions. You just know what they feel for one another, because everyone is showing it his way. However, there are also some very interesting monologues and dialogues that have found their way into the movie and which make us more familiar with the inner life of the characters. Like Gang-sik's dilemma that those sentenced to life imprisonment have nothing to wait for, contrary to those with a death sentence, not to mention anything that could give them hope. But there are some nice themes worked in, too, e.g. the mayfly, which is a symbol for Gang-sik's one-day life in freedom.

The emotions work out so well, too, because with Ryu Deok-hwan ("Like a Virgin") playing the son there has been found a fitting actor to carry the complexity in the relationship between father and son as well. The initial shyness and animosity eventually makes way for the need to get to know the other one after all. The cautious step-by-step process of getting to know each other is displayed in a very natural way and therefore the emotions can unfold in a very credible fashion, too. Gang-sik tries to prove his worth without being intrusive as he knows that he has to be careful, especially since he can understand the animosity of his son. That is because he can't stand himself either. Still, we are suffering along with him when he has to hear from his son that he has evil eyes.
There are some odd and inadequate moments, nonetheless, like the insertion of the wandering birds which was supposed to be something like a counter-image of a perfect family? An alien object that better would have been taken out of the film.

The solid directing, a fitting soundtrack and as already said a nicely written script as well as the good actors make this movie a drama you can't do anything wrong with. At the end there is surprisingly a twist that retrospectively has been cleverly set the stage for all along the film through certain details scattered throughout which makes the twist look nothing like artificial. This distinguishes "My Son" from many other all too manipulative dramas that just need to throw in a last twist at the end just in order to go for some tears while actually achieving nothing else than making the viewer roll his eyes. Jang Jin manages, despite some manipulation of the viewer, to keep the emotions real and moreover he even succeeds to dissolve the sorrow at the end and create a feeling of warmth and hope within the viewer. To be honest, you will happily be seduced to shed some tears on this level of quality.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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