In the rural outskirts of Andong, an old man passes away from old age while writing calligraphy. Meanwhile, his sons "The Bros" are identified. Seok-bong (played by Ma Dong-seok) is an archeologist who tells obscure stories to bored empty classrooms while waiting for his next expedition. Joo-bong (played by Lee Dong-hwi) has to make a construction plan work for his company. Together, they...fight in the car and apparently run down a mysterious senile woman played by Lee Honey.
You may have noticed that nowhere in that summary was any information that made its characters sound particularly interesting or deserving of empathy. That's the main obvious problem with "The Bros" as a movie, is that all we're really watching are Seok-bong and Joo-bong try to run a scam past each other, and their own extended family. I might have been inclined to sympathize with the extended family except that they're so obnoxious as to not really be worth sympathy either.
The only character who at least manages to be interesting is the one played by Lee Honey, mostly because she's so weird, which is exactly the quality necessary when your movie takes place in Andong. The whole surrounding environment is fantastically rustic. That so many of the characters are in mourning clothes for almost the entirity of "The Bros" also adds to the visual distinction. The only real extent to which Seok-bong and Joo-bong are distinctive is that they're fish back in water. They didn't want to come home, and are struggling to re-adjust.
"The Bros" was adapted from the stage musical "The Brave Brothers", also by Director Chang You-jeong, and this is fairly obviously where a lot of the problems arise. Simplistic plots and huge ensembles make sense in the stage musical format, where people are mostly there for the costumes, the songs, and the at-times outrageous attempts at special effects. It's one of the few formats where overacting is not just a positive but practically required, since otherwise the people in the back of the audience can't tell what's going on.
None of this translates well to the broad comedy movie genre. Granted, there are some funny moments. I liked it when Seok-bong and Joo-bong were completely incapable of understanding their elders because they seem to talk entirely in four character Chinese aphorisms. Simple wordplay is also an effectively used element. Of course, it's a pretty big problem when a foreign movie's best jokes are nearly impossible to translate into English.
The bigger problem is that the story is lacking in emotional heft until it's explained who Lee Honey's character is. At that point "The Bros" does manage to go into a fairly strong climax, as it delves into relatable melodramatic backstory that does a lot to explain the motivation of...two characters with almost no screentime compared to Seok-bong and Joo-bong. Yeah, it's never a good sign when all the actual lead characters have to do at the climax is fix problems that they created earlier in the movie entirely due to their own selfishness.
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.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Bros""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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