Jae-pil (played by Han Soo-hyun) is an ordinary salaryman with problems in life. Let's put it this way. He has the kind of terrible bosses who do not accept "wanted for police questioning" as a valid reason for Jae-pil's being unable to deliver on after work commitments of dubious legality. And what does Jae-pil have to show for all this hard work? A lousy home life and no friends. Jae-il's family members alternate between absent, hostile, and unable to get in touch for a very serious conversation.
On the conceptual level there aren't any huge problems with "Ordinary People". By the end we've reached a serviceable, if somewhat trite, message about how family is important and should always be the priority over co-workers who do not respect or like you very much. The problems with "Ordinary People" are entirely on the level of execution. Jae-pil stumbles around clumsily and blindly for most of the movie's runtime. It isn't until the second visit with the police that any kind of dynamic, well-explained conflict shows up.
And even then the results are less than inspiring. To give a sense of perspective of how slopped together this movie is, at one point we meet a woman named Myeong-eun (played by Hong Yi-joo). She just kind of wanders into the movie at random with a contractual explanation that even the other characters don't really understand or care to examine in any way. I felt like this was what "Ordinary People" was doing too- developing plot more out of obligation than logic.
The police are other useful barometers in this context. They turn out to be aggressively incompetent. There's no social statement or intriguing plot point behind this. When other police show up, they almost immediately start upbraiding the local unit for managing to create an unnecessary embarrassing crisis out of nothing. A simple cell phone call should have been enough to put an end to the wacky shenanigans that dominate Jae-pil's life.
If those shenanigans were funny then I'd at least have something nice to say about "Ordinary People" but regrettably, the humor is fairly pedestrian. Once more, without context, jokes don't really make a whole lot of sense. The narrative as a whole frequently sets itself up as a shaggy dog story. Sure Jae-pil is sort of weak-willed and incompetent, yet at bare minimum he's still a slight improvement over the other guys he runs into.
Considering the mostly decent ending, it's a bit of a pity that writer/director Kim Byung-june does not do more with the concept. I can easily visualize Jae-pil as a guy who can be successful when he puts his mind to it and has the right motivation, he just doesn't have that most of the time. But the cornball presentation consistently makes Jae-pil look like a buffoon the same as everyone else, and not the lovable kind either. I wanted to like "Ordinary People", but the movie's just too much of an uneven mess and isn't worth seeking out.
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] "Ordinary People""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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