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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Grandfather"

2016/07/30 | 841 views | Permalink

Gi-gwang (played by Park Geun-hyung) is an old bus driver. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Gi-gwang's experiences in that theater took a heavy toll on his mental faculties. Gi-gwang plunged into alcoholism, alienating most of his family in the process. It's from this vantage point that Gi-gwang lives a bitter pathetic life, until an unexpected bit of bad news leads him into contact with his granddaughter Bo-ram (played by Go Bo-gyeol), a girl who's had to make her own dirty deals to survive in a sub-optimal environment.

The critical anchor to "Grandfather" is Park Geun-hyung's powerful performance as the disaffected veteran Gi-gwang. He's Rambo in a thirty year post-script- not in the "shooty mckill guy", "somebody wouldn't let us win" way, but in the sense that he was shell-shocked by Vietnam and never really had any way to recover from that. Gi-gwang hates pretty much everyone except his bus, an inaminate object that does its job without complaining. Because that's what Gi-gwang felt like his "duty" was- to be a good non-complaining soldier with no emotions, and he failed.

The central mystery in "Grandfather" revolves around what happened to Gi-gwang's family while he was too blackout drunk to help them, and the main tension preventing Gi-gwang from making an emotional connection to the situation. Gi-gwang can't realistically make up for his failures in life, and he knows it. Even brief moments where it seems like Gi-gwang might be turning over a new leaf quickly prove to be illusory, because Bo-ram has been conditioned to expect that no one will look out for her.

And you know, that's legitimately a really, really horrible worldview for any person to have, let alone a teenage girl. Where "Grandfather" is at its strongest is when it is tackling this cynicism while still acknowledging that there are valid foundations for its existence. Gi-gwang can't simply forget about the fact that he was brutalized and traumatized by the Vietnam War. Even if that much wasn't really his fault, the indisputable evidence of Gi-gwang's failures since then make the ending practically inevitable.

While the whole final sequence is, admittedly, a bit of a genre cliché, I nonetheless found it to be a very effective summation of how war broke Gi-gwang. Whether it was a just war, whether society has done right by Gi-gwang since then, or even the question of who "really" bears responsibility for Bo-ram's miserable position in life is rather besides the point. War taught Gi-gwang exactly one useful skill, so that's what he's stuck with.

This basic sense of utilitarianism is what makes "Grandfather" such a fascinating film. Technically the movie might qualify as a revenge fantasy except that no one, not the viewer and certainly not Gi-gwang is particularly pleased at the progression of events. Life is unfair. A manifest sociopath has an easier time finding confederates than a broken human being who has lost the power to pretend. In "Grandfather" it's not the victory that matters- it's acknowledging that very human element of brokenness.

Review by William Schwartz

"Grandfather" is directed by Lee Seo and features Park Geun-hyung, Jung Jin-young and Go Bo-gyeol.

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