[HanCinema's Film Review] "My Little Brother"
By William Schwartz | Published on
Seong-ho (played by Jung Man-sik), Soo-kyeong (played by Lee Yo-won), Joo-mi (played by Esom) and Nak-i (played by Jung Joon-won) are the brothers and sisters of a rural family that spans several decades. They all live in the city now, plying their various trades- Seong-ho is a daycare driver, Soo-kyeong works in journalism, and Joo-mi struggles with various forms of retail work. Nak-i has no profession, being a late-born child, and upon the death of their father the other siblings awkwardly work together to figure out what to do with him.
"My Little Brother" starts out pleasantly enough. That being something of a relative term, given the way their dysfunctionality takes center stage. When other characters had trouble recognizing who Nak-i even was, I was expecting a kind of Bunny Drop style twist explaining where exactly he came from but no, Seong-ho, Soo-kyeong, and Joo-mi really are just that bad about keeping in touch with their father. Which seems especially cruel considering his late wife was deaf.
That sounds like the kind of plot point we'd expect to pop up sooner but no, it's only really in the story at all to help gravitate one of the family members to a happy ending. Which is the main overall problem I had with "My Little Brother"- the way it just sorts of lurches with little obvious purpose. Soo-kyeong does come up with an elaborate scheme of dubious ethical foundations to advance her career, but it's kind of hard to hate a villain we never actually directly see doing anything all that bad.
Likewise, it's difficult to root for the main family when the main obstacle they're struggling against is their natural tendency to play petty pranks on each other. Thankfully Nak-i lacks a malicious bone in his body, so he's able to inspire Soo-kyeong and Joo-mi to doing bigger and better things in life. How Seong-ho was changed for the better by his experiences in "My Little Brother" is a bit harder to grasp, since he has barely any screen time with Nak-i.
Seong-ho also has twin daughters. They are mentioned early on (via another morbid joke about how bad the family is at keeping in touch with each other) and only actually appear near the very end. It's a running theme really. Director Ma Dae-yun pokes a lot of fun about how the four siblings don't know each other all that well, but paradoxically, the film format is itself too short to give us any real idea what these people are like either.
The main redeeming quality to "My Little Brother" is that no one ever acts so vile as to make the full product unwatchable. The real problem is just that the wacky antics get a little dull after awhile. What's more, the relationship of said antics to the greater story structure of "My Little Brother" is tangential, making the movie feel more like a situation comedy made for television than an actual movie. While not terrible, "My Little Brother" isn't all that fun either.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.