Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: ORDINARY PEOPLE Offers Tired Gags in Familiar Situations

By Pierce Conran

Three years after his debut Over and Over Again, director Kim Byung-june returned to Busan with a much livelier effort that strives to mix social realism and situational crime comedy. Aping the lowbrow comic efforts of Korea's commercial realm, Ordinary People looks to punch above its weight but by carrying over the issues that marred his debut and juggling a jumble of themes, Kim's latest strikes a discordant tone that is unlikely to move the masses.

Ordinary People tells the story of a day in the life of salary worker Ko Jae-pil. Financially hard-up, and facing divorce and child custody proceedings, Jae-pil is having a tough go of it. At the same time, his sister comes to him with her own woes, as she owes a tidy sum to her church that she's promised within the day. Jae-pil's shady boss gives him a fiduciary out, but this will involve swindling his company. With no options left, he agrees to the scheme, but when his wife ends up dead in his apartment and the police come-a-knocking, a difficult night turns into a nightmare.

Though the above offers a boiled down synopsis of the film, in truth it takes a long time for the story to come into focus. Jae-pil and his sister are introduced separately and despite their woes being foregrounded, their roles in the story don't become clear until well into the first hour. And while the sister is initially presented as a co-lead, it eventually transpires that her role is only there to further deepen Gae-pil's (the real protagonist) current crisis.

Whereas Over and Over Again featured a mute, soju-drinking young man called Gae-ddong (literally 'dog shit'), the protagonist in Ordinary People is shaded with less overt signifiers. A divorcee and absentee father in financial hardship, his characteristics are certainly 'ordinary.' Alas, his eventual trajectory is also prosaic, echoing the journeys of oh-so-many emasculated males in contemporary Korean cinema.

Ordinary People initially presents itself as gritty drama, without hinting at any of the comedy ahead, but once the humor, much of it at the expense of inept police officers, kicks in, the social aspects of the tale are all but dispensed with. Replete with wonky sound effects and a choppy piano score, Kim's film doesn't dip so much as it dives into farce. Director/writer Jang Jin (Guns and Talk, Murder, Take One) is one of the few Korean directors who has successfully navigated this territory but Kim falls well short of the mark with a script that lacks bite and a cast that never strikes the right tone.

Featuring a tired play on male-centric power play norms in Korea, hysterical supporting actors ham-fisting weak material and unremarkable execution, Ordinary People is an unconvincing sophomore effort from director Kim.


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