Two wayward sons must adapt to the old ways at a tense family funeral.
“Let me know when you die. I’ll pay my respects.”
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch – or at least I certainly hope not – to say that South Korea holds traditional family values in high regard. Cursory research and conversations I’ve had seems to indicate as much, although opinion differs on its continued existence. And while I don’t have that particular experience, every culture on earth has its fair share of customs and rites, along with those who frankly couldn’t care less, and just want to dig up missing Buddha statues.
Seok-bong (Ma Dong-seok) and Dong-hwi (Lee Joo-bong) are estranged brothers working in Seoul. Seok-bong is a penniless history teacher who spends all of his money (and loads he doesn’t have) on treasure-hunting equipment, while Joo-bong is an executive at a civil architecture firm whose ideas have been less than above board. Neither of their lives is going particularly well, and when they receive notice that their father (Jeon Moo-song) has died, travel to their ancestral home for the funeral, knowing full-well they won’t be welcomed back with open arms.
They were thrown out of the house some years back during their mother’s funeral, for disagreeing with the insane traditions upheld by the family. However, they don’t see this funeral as an means to reconnect, but rather as a means to get rich: Seok-bong believes there to be two golden Buddhas buried somewhere in the property, and Dong-hwi wants to get his family to sign a waver, allowing his firm to build a highway through their land. While arguing in the car, they accidentally hit a woman called Ro-Ra (Lee Ha-nui), who has memory loss but also seems to know a lot about their family history.
Writer-director Chan You-jeong definitely seems to have had some experience with these customs, and spends most of the movie dunking on them through subtle and sometimes less-so means. As a piece of satire it will definitely speak more to Koreans than anyone else, so I can’t be too critical of what is effectively is something I don’t understand, but even coming from a foreign point of view I think the message still stands. The criticisms of tradition solely for the sake of tradition is one many people from all walks of life will be able to relate to.
On top of this, the movie also pokes fun at the differences between people from the country and the city, normally by portraying the rural family members as old-fashioned and thoroughly mad. The men are stuck in their ways, insistent in their enforcement of almost-sexist familial practises, four-character idioms and focus on the importance of First Sons™ (and the way this title seems to negatively affect everyone who has to hold it). Family is important to them, and it’s a vital theme of the story – the good stuff, and the bad.
Where it has fault is in its many characters who are about as numerous as they are two-dimensional. The lead roles are decent enough, but only really have a few modes: arguing, cracking wise and hatching schemes. What’s worth noting though is how they’re portrayed compared to the rest of the family – in that they’re also pretty awful, albeit in their own way. In a way, Chan isn’t saying that the city is better than the country, but rather everyone sucks in their own unique way, and only the mysterious lady who got hit by a car and make everything better.
But it’s all played for laughs, even when it shouldn’t. While it’s certainly fun, and never pretends not to be, your enjoyment of it can very well hinge on how much silliness you can suffer. At least the cast do their best in the roles, hamming it up whenever needed and giving more toned down performances if the (very rare) occasion strikes. Ma Dong-seok doesn’t have a lot to do here, at least nothing that really showcases his skills, which is always a shame considering how much of a powerhouse he is as a performer, but he meshes nicely with the rest of the extensive cast.
Overall, it’s pretty decent, and one of the better Korean films on UK Netflix, and is self-aware enough that it never takes itself too seriously. Hell, there’s even a moment when the uncle mentions that he’s run out of phrases (and I’d like to think he spends the rest of the movie in silence, but that might be me projecting what I’d have written). I think it could have been trimmed down in certain places and have more of a focus – especially in its first hour – but it’s a good time nevertheless.
Verdict: Never quite as biting as it should be, The Bros nevertheless tries to put the fun in funeral
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Likeable characters: Like 1?
Days in a Korean funeral: 3, apparently
Dreams: Of being an orphan. Nice.
Poster: That damn emoji
Twists: Right out of nowhere, but also pretty obvious
The Bros (2017)
Also known as: 부라더
Director: Chang You-jeong
Writers: Chang You-jeong, Heo Seong-hye
Ma Dong-seok – Lee Seok-bong
Lee Dong-hwi – Lee Joo-bong
Lee Ha-nui – Oh Ro-Ra
Jo Woo-jin – Lee Mi-bong
Jeon Moo-song – Choon-bae
Sung Byoung-sook – Soon-rye
Seo Ye-ji – Sa-ra
Song Young-chang – Dang-sook