10:00 - 3rd April 2014, by Calum Waddell

Boomerang Family

If you thought your family was dysfunctional, just wait until you check out this slyly satirical Korean take on tolerance among siblings. Released to great acclaim in its native nation last year, netting three Grand Bell nominations (basically the Seoul version of the Oscars), Boomerang Family maintains a deliriously haphazard tone. Occasionally light-hearted, and even a little sweet, the feature flips into formidable drama, fierce violence and unpredictable plot twists that never quite hang together, but it certainly keeps you watching and eager to see what is coming next. Moreover, one cannot help but feel that the story of parental dependency, which is at the heart of Boomerang Family, will resonate outside its home country - making its British bow all the more understandable and welcome.

With a fantastic cast of Korean players, Boomerang Family begins by introducing us to In-mo (Park Hae-il), an out of work filmmaker who had a solitary break a decade ago, but experienced a commercial failure with his only movie to date. To make matters worse, his wife is having an affair. In-mo is considering suicide, but opts against it at the last minute, and, instead, decides to respond to a family dinner invitation and visit his mother. Once there, he is offered the chance to escape from the dire situation he lives in (which also includes the inevitable poverty of being out of work) and move back in with his mother (excellently essayed by Yoon Yeo-jeong who can be seen in this month's The Taste of Money). At this point, a more 'Hollywood' sense of coincidence begins to power the plot: older brother Han-mo (Yun Je-mun from Antarctic Journal and The Good, The Bad and the Weird), a 44 year old gangster, has also decided to return to his parental abode. Then along comes younger sister Mi-yeon (Gong Hyo-jin), with her mouthy teenaged daughter, and - guess what - she is also coming back to mum.

Anyone expecting this to develop into a comedy of catastrophes is somewhat close - there are some sight gags and a few slapstick moments - but, oddly, little of this actually hits home. Unless 'jokes' about flatulence or fondling female underwear has you splitting your side, the comedy relief here is never raucous - if anything, it seems to be used to accompany the portrayal of a family in flux and to ground the characters as aspirational, but unfortunate, personalities. In this current age of austerity, and with 30-something British professionals also co-existing with their parents because of hiked-up rents and scarce public housing, Boomerang Family is a universal story. One genuinely feels for this filmic gang of misfits - and you really want to see both brothers, and sister, succeed in gaining enviable lives of their own. It would be wrong to spoil how all of this all wraps up, but there is some bloodletting and a wrap-up that satisfies in bringing everything, and everyone, together.

As mentioned, the performances in Boomerang Family are thoroughly top notch - but the lead character, In-mo, played by Park Hae-il, offers a particularly impressive turn. Hae-il will be recognisable to most followers of Korean cinema thanks to his turn in Bong Joon-ho's twosome of Memories of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006) and here he puts in some great work. Especially memorable is an awkward luncheon with some 'colleagues' that has him belittled for his cinematic ambitions and his inability to conquer the box office ten years previous. Naturally, it is difficult not to feel for the luckless gentleman.

Given that Seoul has not been unique in experiencing economic hurt during the recent recession, Boomerang Family is doubtless a timely reminder of the 'sink or swim' consequences of market capitalism and the generation that is now dependant on elder property owners. The social critique here is notable, and, given the claustrophobia of the many sequences shot inside the family home, there is a surprising aura of horror as well. This atmosphere undoubtedly emerges from the obvious lack of freedom that comes from dependency, and kudos has to go to director Song Hae-sung for so aptly expressing this. Visually intriguing, Boomerang Family is an aesthetically imaginative undertaking that effortlessly overcomes the limitations of its small scale and equally minimal cast.

Of course, this is still an outré offering - even by the standards of modern Korean cinema - and, as noted at the beginning of this review, it is tricky to keep up with the tone of Boomerang Family, which - at times - does not seem to know what it wants to be. On the one hand, it leads to a shakily sublime viewing experience, but, on the other, it occasionally distracts from some carefully built-up character development. Yet, in spite of this, we are happy to recommend Boomerang Family. It is no masterpiece, but it is a relevant look at modern problems and, on top of that, a damn decent picture of a family in flux.

Expect to be bounced back and forth by Boomerang Family, before concluding that, indeed, this is quite a classy catch...
SCORE: 3.5/5
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