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Fathers take center stage in Korean films

2007/04/19 Source

Melodramas, horror flicks, gangster comedies and thrillers have one thing in common for Korean moviegoers: they are not so popular at the box office. To find a breakthrough, filmmakers have been exploring other alternative genres and themes, one of which turns out to be the father.

Not a traditional Korean father who symbolizes the paternal authority, though. The latest cinematic Korean fathers are usually depicted as middle-aged, increasingly powerless, anxious to survive, lonely, and willing to admit their vulnerability.

In-gu, a mid-level mob boss in "The Show Must Go on", is a case in point. The character represents many Korean fathers who feel threatened by the worsening conditions in Korean society.

In-gu, played by veteran actor Song Kang-ho, wants to get a decent house for his family - one of the key issues for most Korean households - but does not make enough money. After all, he's just a gangster-cum-worker stuck on the lower rung of the social ladder.

Unlike traditional Korean fathers who used to wield enormous power just a century ago, today's Korean fathers do not have the guts to speak up even when their meager authority is challenged, questioned and ignored. In-gu, for instance, does not command any authority among family members. His daughter openly despises him.

The crisis facing middle-aged Korean fathers involves a weakening status in the workplace, soaring education costs for their children, the elusive dream of owning a big house, and a marriage that is steadily falling apart.

Paternal authority has become non-existent. There is no clear role model to follow so fathers must continue to battle the tough world - alone. Fathers including In-gu are being pushed to the sidelines and forgotten in society and among their own spouses and children

Helplessness is another important aspect in depicting today's Korean fathers. Director Jang Jin introduces Lee Kang-shik (played by Cha Seung-won) in his latest film "My Son" (Adeul), a father who has been incarcerated in prison for more than a decade and is given a single day out of jail.

In the film, to be released on May 3, Kang-shik's only wish, once out of jail, is to meet his son, who was an infant when he was arrested. The only problem is that his son, now a high school student, is not ready to discover that he has a father - a father saddled with a not so respectable history.

"My Father", which will be released later this year, tackles the fatherhood issue more directly. The story involves James Parker (Daniel Henney), a boy adopted by an American family. He embarks on a quest to find his birth father, and addresses questions about what father, if anything, means.

"Meet Mr. Daddy" ("Shiny Day" - Nunbushin Nal-ae), which hit theaters yesterday, is expected to shed light on the soft side of a Korean father who has a cute, pretty daughter. The film, directed by Park Kwang-soo, features the encounter between a father (Park Shin-yang) and his young, estranged daughter, against the backdrop of the 2002 World Cup. The story revolves around the abrupt father-daughter bonding, which is rare in Korean cinema.

In a sense, it is refreshing to see a variety of father figures in Korean films, though many of them do not lead a comfortable or enviable life. It is a fact that paternal authority is diminishing fast, and local filmmakers seem to believe that such a change in roles deserves some silver-screen attention.

By Yang Sung-jin

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