Cho-won (played by a ten-year old Yoo Seung-ho) was conceived under auspicious circumstances. Immature high school student Cheol-soo (played by Jung Woong-in, who being in his thirties doesn't look like a high school student at all) and tough-as-nails bombshell Ae-rang (played by Chae Min-seo) hooked up. Thanks to questionable decision-making on both their parts, Cho-won is, in the present day, being raised in the nightclub where Cheol-soo works as an emcee.
What surprised me the most about "Don't Tell Papa" is how it's not really as lewd as it sounds or looks. Sure, Cheol-soo fantasizes about women all the time, and even used Cho-won to come on to them. Yes, the women in the nightclub are scantily clad, use foul language, and some of them aren't even women. Finally, Cho-won's sense of normalcy is so warped he doesn't even question a naked bath scene with a woman he barely knows. Incidentally that scene must cause Yoo Seung-ho a fair amount of embarrassment as a modern hearththrob. I doubt he even remembers doing it.
But all of these often bizarre and comical visual moments always run together to make the same generally sweet point. That family matters, and unconventional parents are nothing to be ashamed of. We can see that for all his eccentricities Cheol-soo is a genuinely loving father. It's a shame that Ae-rang handed Cho-won off to him in such an...unconventional way. All the same Cheol-soo always puts Cho-won first.
Consider how the main conflict of "Don't Tell Papa" is about whether or not Ae-rang should be a part of Cho-won's life going forward, following her inevitable reappearance. The focus is always on what this will mean for Cho-won. Racy as the subject matter is, it's rare to find a family movie which correctly decides that the desires of adults are subordinate when a child is involved. Furthermore, Cho-won really is just a normal kid, so it's easy to empathize with him.
"Don't Tell Papa" is admittedly somewhat questionable in the romance department because of this. Since Cheol-soo and Ae-rang's scenes are completely dominated by the overhanging question of what's best for Cho-won, we rarely even get to see them talk to each other about each other except in flashback. Of course, that initial bar fight scene is funny- legitimately one of the better meet cutes I've ever seen. Even more impressively, "Don't Tell Papa" manages to use that creepy Fairy and the Woodcutter fairy tale in a way that doesn't seem completely perverted.
It helps that "Don't Tell Papa" has a very strong sense of agency and consequences. Observe how in the big climactic scene, at right the moment when a villainous character realizes that he's gone too far, Cheol-soo very stupidly escalates the situation. Cheol-soo may be a loving father, but he is nonetheless a very flawed man, and is all the more sympathetc for that. In the end, it's the desire not to fight which make the unconventional family in "Don't Tell Papa" work so well.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Don't Tell Papa" + DVD Giveaway"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads from the website (not for episode and movie videos) for US$0.99 monthly or US$7.99 yearly (you can cancel anytime). The first step is to be a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show up.