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South Korea 2007

Drama, Comedy

Jeong Yoon-Chul

Jeon Ho-jin
Hwang Bo-ra
Moon Hee-kyeong
Yoo Ah-in
Kim Hye-su
Jeong Yu-mi
Lee Ki-woo
Lim Hyeok-pil
Park Hae-il

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Skeletons in the Closet

aka Shim's Family

Story: The Shims seem to be a family like any other in Korea. However, soon some secrets within the family are uncovered which doesn't only make the daughter, Yong-son (Hwang Bo-ra), wonder why you have to live in the same house only because you are family. There are numerous arguments among the members of the family and it seems as if no one can stand the other.
Chung-su (Jeon Ho-jin) is a teacher who isn't respected by his students. Moreover, his wife is miserable about the fact that he is impotent. Of all people he is part of a cell phone-made video that shows him spending the night in a hotel with a minor. The mother, Hae-gyong (Moon Hee-kyeong), feels neglected by her family, the son, Yong-tae (Yoo Ah-in), thinks that Chung-su isn't his biological father and he has fallen in love with a minor working as a prostitute which is why he is often thinking about committing suicide. Then there is also aunt Mi-gyong (Kim Hye-su), who struggles being successful as a comic book writer. Amid this ailing family Yong-son asks herself why people are the way they are and to make things worse she falls in love with a teacher at her school. Is the Shim family breaking apart or is blood thicker than water, after all?

Review: The Shims are supposed to stand as the typical Korean family. As in any family (not just in Korea) there are conflicts within such an "institution" and people who normally wouldn't even care about each other if they weren't related have to get along with each other. But fate has united these people by a strong bond and therefore the problem of one individual becomes the one of everyone else. Director Jeong Yoon-Chul, who has created a nice drama with his former movie "Marathon", shows the social and cultural problems within Korean society by putting the spotlight on one single family. His approach is very amusing most of the time, sadly the film lacks a thread that runs through the whole work. The daughter is more or less supposed to be the movie's narrator, but the other characters too often get into the foreground, too, so that every one might get his time on screen, yet you get the impression that the characters could have been elaborated a bit more.

For these reasons "Skeletons in the Closet" oftentimes is somewhat frustrating. There is too much information and too many confusingly scattered ideas and problems thrown into the film, which leads to the difficulty that you can't really be sure what director Jeong actually wanted to convey in the end. He deals with shortages and problems of society in an amusing fashion, but while doing so he struggles to fight his way through a mountain of motives, of which any single one would have given enough material to create a whole movie with it, therefore, he loses sight of what's really important. Only the family, resp. the all in all charismatic actors can hold the film together.
Jeon Ho-jin ("Daisy", "Double Agent") delivers a very reserved, but convincing portrayal as the impotent father, while Hwang Bo-ra seems more extroverted, keeping the viewer up-to-date about her thoughts through an internet radio program. The son, played by Yoo Ah-in ("Antique"), is the one who thinks of him as a forgeign body in the family the most and he even believes that he was a king in a former life. But he isn't the only one in the movie that seems rather strange. Every character seems to be wacky, but in a modest way the kind of you actually come across in real life, too.

Moon Hee-kyeong plays the mother who doesn't want to be simply the cook in the family, anymore. She slowly starts to have feelings for a man a lot younger than her, which is why she lets herself drag into a sect by him. Mind you, a coffee sect... That's exactly the kind of way director Jeong criticizes Korean society, in which you let yourself get manipulated easily as long as you get a feeling of common belonging in return and can sing some songs. All of this might sound abstruse, and that's exactly what it is, but without a doubt it also serves a purpose which soon becomes apparent, in contrast to some other scenes that simply seem odd. Jeong balances on a strange thin line between art house drama and comedy. A mixture that unfortunately doesn't always hit the right notes and that's the movie's main problem. A bitter and sarcastic view on Korea's society, resp. families can actually work out as Kim Ji-woon's "The Quiet Familiy" proves to name just one. But the humor in "Skeletons in the Closet" is not so much black as it is odd. There are too many scenes that will just make you scratch your head. If you would see them in an art house movie you would feel encouraged to interpret them, but here the meaning of these scenes is relativized by the humor.

One person who steers the film decisivily in the direction of a charming comedy is Kim Hye-su ("Hypnotized", "A Good Day to Have an Affair"). As the ageless aunt she radiates charm whereever she goes. This makes her a truely likeable character and also the one who is the easiest to get access to. However, as already mentioned this also interferes with the rather serious theme of the movie. The moon, for example, is over and over used as an epitome of longing, the yearning for the mysterious, unexplainable, yes, all of this almost seems romantic, but it's the people who are unexplainable after all, as it is in real life. And that's what's causing a problem in the movie as we don't feel close to the characters. Furthermore, the characters lack some depth. For most part this can be made up for by the acting achievements, but the characters simple don't get the amount of time they would deserve on screen. If the movie's distribution of focus had been more unbalanced, let's say there would be one certain individual in the foreground, the film would have been more accessible as a whole.

"Skeletons in the Closet" colorwise stands out from the rest of the polished-looking comedies, and this is most likely because this isn't a romantic drama - of course love plays an important role in the end, nonetheless - but a drama that explores society. The internet era with its incredibly fast spreading news and the cell phone generation that instantly draws their mobile when the teacher is about to slap a student, show the changes in society and the problems in Korean culture. In the end, the film doesn't stay close enough to the characters. Only towards the end we grow fond of the family and the finale also gets more weight despite its entertainment value. Unfortunately, this isn't enough to make up for the flaws mentioned above. Therefore, "Skeleton in the Closet" remains an interesting drama that surely deserves that you take a closer look at it, yet fails to phrase a real message among the numerous topics it deals with.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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