Director: Park Hoon-Jung
Cast: Kim Sun-Ho, Kang Tae-Ju, Kim Kang-Woo, Go Ara, Justin John Harvey, Caroline Magbojos
Duration: 118 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
As a director and screenwriter, Park Hoon-jung has become one of Korea’s most consistent commercial directors since his debut with The reckoning in 2010, directing 7 more productions over the next 13 years. The latest of him comes in the form of 2023 The childcoming almost a year away from the release of 2022 The witch: part 2. The other. In my review for his sequel superpowered teens, I had highlighted how some of Hoon-jung’s hallmarks include “a fondness for bloodshed (apparently the messier the better) and an apparent allergy to shorter runtimes.” at 2 hours”. Good with The child only half of that statement rings true, as for the first time since his debut he’s directed a production that runs under 2 hours (it may only be 2 minutes, but it still counts).
The plot of Hoon-jung’s latest film concerns the plight of a half-Korean, half-Filipino amateur boxer. Played by K-drama actor Kang Tae-ju, he lives a hard life in Manila caring for his bedridden mother, while harboring dreams of finding his father in Korea in hopes of giving a better life for both of them. Efforts to locate the father so far through a local agency have proved unsuccessful, so it comes as a surprise to everyone when a delegation from South Korea arrives looking for Tae-ju, revealing that his father does not have long to live and wishes to meet the son he left behind.
It also happens that his father is the president of a wealthy business empire, which soon sees Tae-ju brought to Seoul first class. Unfortunately the luxury cannot be fully enjoyed, as he has to contend with being followed by an enigmatic assassin, played by another K-drama actor in the form of Kim Seon-ho. What Seon-ho’s intentions are is never clear, to both Tae-ju and the audience, with the question of whether he is friend or foe often reaching out to the latter. However Seon-ho turns out to be the least of Tae-ju’s problems once he arrives in Korea, with the introduction of his half-brother (played by Kim Kang-woo- Remembered, The Disappeared) revealing that the reason for his summoning may not be as pure as previously thought.
The plot is a welcome change from Hoon-jung’s more outspoken gangster films, with stories involving Kopino a rarity in Korean cinema. While technically the term refers to someone of mixed Korean and Filipino ancestry, it is actually more commonly used to refer to half Korean and half Filipino children raised by their single Filipino mother, the result of Korean men visiting the country for both sex and non-sex tourism. using protection. The only other production I can think of that features a Kopino character in a prominent role is Lee Sang-woo’s Tropical Manila from 2008, a typically dark look at the dark side of human nature. With The child while Hoon-jung isn’t as interested in exploring the challenges facing Kopino, he instead uses the character of Tae-ju as a fresh perspective to frame the usual double-crosses and bloodletting that populate his stories.
If you’re a fan of Hoon-jung, then that’s not a bad thing, this being a case of the same wine in a new bottle. From the first few minutes it’s apparent that we’re in familiar territory, as we witness Seon-ho’s killer beat a pair of hapless offenders halfway through with a wrench, leaving them for dead in an abandoned Manila warehouse. While it initially seems like we’re in similar tonal territory to the likes of The new world AND Night in paradise, to his credit Hoon-jung has gone for something a little different here. Which is to say, there’s an absurd comic streak that permeates everything The childand almost everything rests on Seon-ho’s shoulders as the mysterious assassin.
It was about a third of the way through that I found myself wondering exactly who should have been the main character of Hoon-jung’s latest film: Tae-ju as the boxer Kopino over his head, or Seon-ho as of the smartly dressed killer. . To their credit, while many K-drama actors struggle to convert their small-screen popularity into big-screen charisma, they both do a stellar job of bringing the 2-hour runtime between them, with Seon-ho in particular hopes heralds a successful role. His portrayal of an unstoppable and feared assassin is constantly undermined by a series of amusing asides, a combination that almost makes it seem as if he’s starring in another film, but also makes him the scene-stealer of The child.
While everyone else is unmistakably present in a slice of Park Hoon-jung’s usual macho attitude, Seon-ho plays his hired killer as an obsessive metrosexual, one who cares more about his looks than catching his target. After an intense chase comes to its apparent conclusion, the camera lingers on Seon-ho, and instead of yelling obscenities as per the traditional Korean gangster trope, instead he scrambles to fix his matted hair back to the desired look, making sure that he is well before exiting the scene. While scenes like that would be far from comedy gold if it were The child was a straight satire, the fact that everything around him is played completely poker-faced results in an offbeat tone that really works in his favor, sort of a spin on Slim Pickens in Doctor Strangelove If you want.
This is not the first time Hoon-jung has aimed to inject elements of humor into a narrative, as he has made similar attempts with The witch: part 2. The other, which for the most part fell flat on their faces and grated against the overall tone, yet he struck the right balance here. Indeed from the moment Seon-ho hunts down Tae-ju in a sequence that sees them both leaping off a bridge onto the ground below, plummeting from a height that would actually result in a minimum of broken legs, it becomes clear that Hoon -jung is in a more playful mood than usual. Once you switch to the same wavelength, there’s plenty to enjoy comedically, from a hilarious money-swapping sequence, to the ridiculous amount of time spent watching Tae-ju escape from pursuing cars .
The only downside is that between Seon-ho’s killer and Kim Kang-woo’s evil half-brother, Tae-ju essentially has his move stolen from under him. This is probably due to the script that he intentionally plays things that way, and to some extent he’s also a relative newcomer to the acting game, having only had roles in K-drama Missing: The other side (2020) and Hello I! (2021) before taking the lead here. Hoon-jung’s decision to cast non-film actors as the leads paid off, however, and with Tae-ju’s dialogue almost half in English (perhaps even a little more), he delivers in a non-native tongue with aplomb, never once taken out of the film as is often the case.
Obviously any of Hoon-jung’s productions wouldn’t be complete without a messy, blood-spattered finale, making him one of the few directors left in Korea who is still willing to pull off the kind of chaotic, heavy action scenes that were a staple of the films. villages. gangster genre until the mid-2010s. Needless to say, here he does not disappoint, resulting in a one-on-many fight that sees bodies scattered everywhere in a frenetic and messy close-quarters confrontation.
With a welcome streak of humor and zero compromises on his typically violent approach to storytelling, I’d be willing to say The child it is the best work Hoon-jung has done since his second feature film with 2013 The new world. The fact that it lasts less than 2 hours and features a scene stealing Kim Seon-ho’s performance is just icing on the cake.
Paul Bramhall’s assessment: 7.5/10