In-goo (played by Song Kang-ho) is a slob of a middle-aged man who works late. This has created a lot of tension at home. In-goo's wife Mi-ryeong (played by Park Ji-young) wants In-goo to knock this off for his own health. In-goo's daughter Hee-soon (played by Kim So-eun) wants him to quit because it's humiliating to be the daughter of a gangster. Ah yes. And that's where the central irony of "The Show Must Go on" comes in. While In-goo may be a professional criminal, he is not what anyone would call cool.
Exotic nature of the work notwithstanding, In-goo is really just a regular salaryman. The kind who, at his age, is hoping to either be promoted to a position with less physical responsibilities or is alternatively just thinking about quitting entirely and doing something he actually likes to do. In-goo is, sort of, good at physical intimidation and even violence when the situation calls for it. But for In-goo, this is just stuff that he is paid to do, not anything enjoyable in its own right and certainly not the kind of activities he engages in on his own time.
Aside from feeling really out of place as a salaryman in a gangster's body, everything about In-goo's criminal organization feels out of place in the then contemporary context of the mid-2000's. Mostly it's just that no one's scared of them anymore. Sure, they're dangerous, but observe from the very first moment In-goo has to use physical force to compel normal people to do the gang's bidding. Threats alone just don't cut it.
The media landscape, and the increased probability that someone might call the cops who are no longer corrupt instruments of the state, also serves to make a mockery of In-goo's dignity. At one point In-goo himself has to be rescued, not by his own men, but by the police. Likewise, that Hee-soon considers the police to be a more impressive authority figure than her own father or anyone he works with is a stark statement of just how useless In-goo is.
So why does In-goo stick with it? Why, to provide a better life for his family of course. In this case a better life is defined as, like, a nicer house. Or being able to send his son to go study overseas. Happiness, then, is being equated with money. The inherently hollow nature of this rationalization is hard to escape even if textually "The Show Must Go on" gives indications that In-goo's assumptions are correct.
I can't help but be reminded of "A Single Rider", which ten years later had similar implications about how crime doesn't pay, even if by some miracle you can still use the paycheck to make your family happy in a faraway place that is not South Korea. Because make no mistake about it. "The Show Must Go on" is a subtle, thoroughly disturbing satirical look at modern South Korean culture, its cause strengthened by how from In-goo's point of view, none of this is a joke no matter how much he feels like one.
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] "The Show Must Go On" + DVD Giveaway"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
[HanCinema's Film Review] "My Tutor Friend Lesson II" + DVD Giveaway
Junko (played by Lee Chung-ah) is a young Japanese woman of some Korean ancestry who lives in Hokk,...More
[HanCinema's Film Review] "Marrying the Mafia III" + DVD Giveaway
So it's been a year since the end of "Marrying the Mafia II", which concluded with mafia heir In-j,...More
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.