Story: Kang In-gu (Song Kang-ho) is a gangster. He constantly has to look after his incompetent subordinates
and also has to watch out that the rivalling Jaguar gang doesn't snatch his deals in town. However, In-gu is faster than
his rivals when it comes to a big construction project in town. He nails the deal, which isn't anything the competing
Jaguar gang nor the brother of In-gu's boss, No Sang-mun (Yu Je-mun), are happy with, as latter wants a piece of the
Anyway, first and foremost In-gu sees himself as a father and husband, who just tries hard to make ends meet for his wife (Park Ji-yeong), his rebelling daughter (Kim So-eun) and his son who studies abroad. Still, it's not easy for him to hold his family together, since recent events, like an increasing number of attacks on In-gu, make his wife wonder if it is such a good idea to stay at In-gu's side.
For Kang things start to get exlosive when he finds out that someone within his gang is seeking his life. The only help he gets is from his old buddy Hyun-su (Oh Dal-su), who just happens to be working for the Jaguar gang. In-gu doesn't want to betray his boss, but if he wants to survive he will have to accept the help of the Jaguar gang. For In-gu a fight for survival begins.
Review: Korea surely hasn't reached the level of expertise of Hong Kong's dark triad movies with its gangster
films, but oftentimes filmmakers also go into a more entertaining, or rather humorous direction I should say.
"The Show must go on", however, doesn't provide us with wacky characters and numerous brawls between armies of gangsters
swinging their baseball bats, but instead focuses solely on one single individual that is part of this gangster world and
doesn't wish for anything more than to see his family supplied with anything it needs. Even though the movie extremely
heads down the path of a drama, which it certainly is in its core, you can't oversee the irony with which director Han Jae-rim
sheds light on his characters and the gangster world. Luckily, this doesn't deprive the film of any of its emotional
impact, but even can convince us with a surprising mix of drama and unobtrusive humor. The film is also compelling
thanks to its great cast of which Song Kang-ho once again delivers a brilliant performance.
Director Han Jae-rim already could surprise his audience with his debut work "Rules of Dating". His ability to give familiar stories a twist into a different direction than usual, and to bestow something special upon them, was already apparent back then. The same goes for "The Show must go on", as the plot itself doesn't come as anything inventive. The movie revolves, as the story summary already told you, around a gangster, who is betrayed by his own men. He has to be careful whom to trust and must carefully consider which side to take if he wants to get out of this mess alive. It's also not that special that such a film depicts the main protagonist as someone who is actually a likeable guy. Han's work looks at things from a refreshingly different angle than we are used to, though.
Kang In-gu is a man, who really would like to be a good husband and father, but yet can't imagine to do anything else than to continue working for a gangster organisation. His wife knows about his business and would like nothing more than for him to finally look for a decent job, which is why she even threatens him with a divorce later on. Moreover, In-gu has an especially serious problem with his pubescent daughter, who is ashamed of her father and would like to see him dead.
These moments of "family drama" are what make "The Show must go on" work out so effectively. The first half hour of the film serves as an introduction, whereas there isn't much thrilling happening on screen. However, after that an unusually intense scene takes place between In-gu and his daughter after In-gu read the diary of his daughter, in which was written that she would like nothing more than for her father to die. In-gu is willing to grant his daughter's wish and being drunk after a bottle of alcohol he hands her a knife, since he prefers to die by his own daughter's hands than by some thugs'. As the daughter eventually gets frightened by her father's behavior she calls the police who take In-gu to the police station. In these scenes we get to see the weakness, flaws and unpicturesque sides of the characters, so that we get to feel the drama of this family in all its naturalness. Of course, the daughter actually loves her father, which we become aware of throughout the rest of the film, but she doesn't say so even once. Still, she is ashamed of her father's profession, and furthermore even has nightmares from an experience of her childhood, when she saw In-gu beating up some guy of a rivalling gang.
In other words, the movie mainly works on a drama level and does so very effectively, yet at the same time it portrays the brutality and roughness that almost stands as a law of nature in a gangster organisation. The director may refrain from showing too much explicit violence, but the violence that is shown stands out as very real, which is why the knifing in broad daylight in a shopping mall pumps so much adrenaline through the veins of the viewer. But this isn't the only action scene. Towards the end there is also a small, but very well done chasing scene with a resulting crash on an intersection. These are moments that are captured with a good sense for realism, and therefore can stick to the audience for a while.
In-gu over and over gets into situations in which he has to fight for survival, yet the film always draws these scenes with an ironic background color. Adding to this is an unusually cheerful - and unfortunately also inappropriate at times - soundtrack by Yoko Kanno ("Cowboy Bebop", "Kamikaze Girls").
Acting-wise, apart from Song Kang-ho ("The Host", "Memories of Murder"), who delivers a great performance as a gangster struggling to be a good father, there is also Oh Dal-su ("Oldboy", "A Bittersweet Life") as In-gu's best friend, who deserves to be mentioned. The friendship between the two is almost tangible. Anyway, the rest of the cast also does a good job.
The most interesting and touching moments are those between In-gu and his daughter or his wife. Here it shows once more that In-gu isn't just a gangster, but that he is a man, who strives for being a good father, yet knows of no no other way to provide for his family than to remain a gangster. However, he may be a gangster, but he doesn't really show any proficiency concerning his occupation, which just underlines the constant wink the film throws at us. Still, In-gu sees himself as a tough guy and he needs to prove this on several occasions. Song Kang-ho fantastically manages to add an unusual genuiness to his character that makes "The Show must go on" work so well.
The ending might cause some disappointment in some viewers, but then again if you give it some consideration it is actually the best one you could have come up with for such a movie as the two alternatives would have been too typical for the genre. We sympathize with In-gu and suffer along with him, yet at the same time we also have to shake our head over this "idiot". But that's exactly the atypical and fascinating thing about this film. Nothing plays out the way we would expect it, and so you also shouldn't wonder when the ending credits roll over the screen half an hour after the actual climax.
"The Show must go on" is an exceptional and well-done movie, which shows once again that director Han Jae-rim has a great knack for shooting movies from a different perspective!