By Rex Baylon
The concept and role of family has gone through several evolutions in the history of man. At first being just an institution for the birthing and raising of offspring. Back than, it took, as the old saying goes, a whole village to raise a child. As populations increased and values shifted away from group think into a more individualistic mode the definition of family became more constrained.
Within Korean, and in a broader term Asian, culture the family unit is a sacrosanct institution. Whereas in most Western First World nations the family is a loosely defined collection of people connected by biology, stuck together for a set number of years before children grow up and leave the nest. In Asian families, the relationship between parents and children could be best defined as co-dependent. And not just in the sense of children, past the prime of adolescence, still living at home but in the way the role of parent is extended past the time children are married.
For Song Hae-sung’s seventh feature, Boomerang Family, the main narrative is concerned with a trio of thirty-something siblings brought together by extenuating circumstances. The most “accomplished”, In-mo (Park Hae-il), is a failed first time director with no money and a broken marriage. He returns home to find his mother and older brother Han-mo (Yoon Je-moon) living a peaceful coexistence. For Han-mo, a reformed criminal with no future prospects, his situation is not at all bothersome; needing no job, his basic needs taken care of by his mother, and within walking distance of the neighborhood hair stylist he has a crush on Han-mo is in seventh heaven. Everything comes crashing down on him though the moment In-mo moves back in. Both brothers continuously fight and though it might seem as if In-mo is a pure victim of his brother’s violent outbursts the story slowly reveals the sacrifices Han-mo had to make to protect his younger and oftentimes selfish younger brother. The only time their battling does take a momentary pause is when their younger sister Mi-yun (Kong Hyo-jin) and her daughter Min-kyung (Jin Ji-hee) also come to live at their mother’s, the moment this happens the brothers focus all their attention on forcing her out of the house.
Structured in an episodic fashion the film moves from various storylines concerning each family member. In-mo’s attempts to revive his directing career, Han-mo’s petty criminal activities and attempts to woo the local hair dresser, Mi-yun’s new romance, and their mother’s secret relationship with the neighborhood hardware store owner yet even with all these disparate storylines the main through line that connects character and plot together is the notion that no matter how much they fight and argue with one another these people are a family and nothing will break those bonds.
Watching the film I couldn’t help but be reminded of Wes Anderson’s 2001 comedy drama The Royal Tenenbaums. Like Anderson’s film, Boomerang Family revolves around a dysfunctional family that come together again in the same household after a series of mini-tragedies, yet what separates the two is that Song’s picture has none of the twee artiness that leaves many scenes in Anderson’s film feeling very well art-directed but emotionally cold and trying. Boomerang Family, though not as well art-directed, feels far more dramatically real. Be it the acting, which is varied, depending on the character or scene, or the story itself, adapted from a novel by Cheon Myung-gwan, every character seems real even in their most caricatured moments. Aside from that Song’s film lacks a lot of the pessimism inherent in Anderson’s film. Though a lot of serious dramatic weight is thrown at us there is a sweetness to the characters and it’s not such a surprise that the film ends in a bittersweet but otherwise positive way.
Though steeped in melodramatic moments Boomerang Family earns these moments by never shying away from the ugliness of its characters. For too often in films character flaws are redressed as cute or somehow something to be proud of. Song’s film with the help of the actors features dysfunctional characters that are multi-faceted. It is not about whether what they do is right or wrong but whether it matches their character. As Leo Tolstoy famously said, “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If this is true Boomerang Family adds an addendum to that: one cannot be certain whether a family is happy or not till one enters their home and observes without judgment. A task Song Hae-sung and his collaborators accomplish with aplomb.
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