Won-man (played by Son Byung-ho) makes a living filing frivolous lawsuits and bullying people into paying him to go away. He is hated by, well, pretty much everybody, especially his son Cheon-bong (played by Kim Min-ki), who straight up fled the household to avoid dealing with Won-man's abuse. But the time is reckoning at hand- having exhausted the patience of all his non-relatives, Cheon-bong returns home with his hugely pregnant girlfriend. By the way, they still have vigorous loud sex every night.
This is all very much to the consternation of Se-joo (played by Han Bo-bae), the daughter of Won-man and younger sister of Cheon-bong. She resents the fact that her family is so obnoxious, and most of the actual narrative of "Total Messed Family" is just Se-joo narrating what's happening on screen, slowly inching toward the young woman changing her notion of what it means to be a family.
Hypothetically that's what the movie should be doing. Unfortunately "Total Messed Family" lacks any kind of coherent focus. There are a large number of characters, several of whom are completely irrelevant, and I'm not even sure why they're in the movie at all. The script feels unfinished- like there were plot points that were added and removed but they'd already shot some of the scenes with the extras and, well, too much work to just shoot the scenes again. They were good takes!
Similarly there's very little sense that the characters have actually learned anything throughout the ordeal. Yes they've come together as a family by the end but it's not like any of the actual problems have gone away. Won-man is still hated by pretty much everyone, it's just that he doesn't lash out as aggressively now that his son has enough self-esteem to fight back.
That sentence probably sounds pretty morbid, but fortunately "Total Messed Family" does have one big positive point. It is extremely funny. The revenge Cheon-bong takes on Won-man (and vice-versa) is simultaneously absurd and casual. There's this constant sense of comedic one-upsmanship, as characters catch on to one another's schemes and comes up with increasingly weird methods of counterattack.
It's a pity that these moments don't come up particularly organically. It's pretty clear that director No Zin-soo just threw in all his best jokes, and that the story we're left with is more the combination of characters that make the jokes possible than it is a real story. The ending in particular slows to a crawl, because there's no decent emotional resonance in the final dramatic events. When the movie's not funny, there's just not anything worth caring about going on. Still, the laughs come often enough and hard enough that I can't bring it to myself to really hate "Total Messed Family". It really just would have been better suited as spaced out television sitcom than a feature length film.
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] "Total Messed Family""
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