“Boomerang Family” is, as its title suggests, a story of a modern Korean family and its struggling members “returning” to their caring mother. “Failan” (2001) and “Maundy Thursday” (2006) director Song Hae-sung has adapted author Cheon Myeong-gwan’s novel to create a work that’s an entertaining mixture of comedy and engaging, heart-felt family drama.
The film opens with a rather grim, violent scene, in which In-mo (played by Park Hae-il), a penniless filmmaker, is beating up a man who seems to have slept with his wife. The violence takes place at a freezing riverside in winter; white snow and the cracking atmosphere fill the screen.
Then the film visits In-mo’s mother at her simple but cozy apartment. The loving old woman (played by Yoon Yeo-jeong) is making chicken broth in her kitchen. When the food is ready, she gives In-mo a call, asking him to visit and eat with her. When his phone buzzes, In-mo is about to kill himself in his dingy studio, plagued by his failed marriage and career. He has no money in his back account.
|A scene from “Boomerang Family” (Invent Stone Corp)|
Deeply touched by her phone call and the bowl of chicken broth, In-mo decides to move into her apartment ― at the age of 40. Then the viewers are introduced to In-mo’s rather unusual siblings, who all have problems of their own.
His older brother, Han-mo (played by Yoon Je-moon), is an unemployed 44-year-old ex-con, who has been living with his mother for a while. His younger sister, Mi-yeon (Gong Hyo-jin), is a two-time divorcee with a bratty, rebellious teenage daughter (played by “High Kick!” star Jin Ji-hee).
All of the siblings reunite at their mother’s apartment, as Mi-yeon also moves in with her daughter after her second, nasty divorce.
Their mother, however, never criticizes her children, nor does she even mention their obvious ― and serious ― problems. It seems the only thing she expects from them is to eat well. She genuinely finds joy in feeding them and watching them eat. The camera repeatedly follows her hands when she cooks, as she cuts tofu into cubes for a huge pot of soybean stew, and as she barbecues pork chops. The movie in fact dedicates a significant portion to eating-in-group scenes, to the extent that actor Yoon Je-moon “gained a lot of weight” while shooting the film.
The film does evoke rather traditional family ideals, where the parents are ever giving and sacrificing, offering their unconditional love to their financially and emotionally dependent children.
“Today’s Korean society isn’t an easy one to deal with for anyone, I think,” director Song said during a press conference on Monday. He said he was drawn to the penniless filmmaker character in the original novel as he also experienced failures in his life.
“And it is comforting to have a place to go back to when things go wrong in your life and you have nothing left in your hands. And most of the time, that place is your family, and your mother. She welcomes you even when you are struggling, and listens to your problems and encourages you. I wanted to talk about that with this film.”
“Boomerang Family,” however, isn’t a drama that only praises a mother’s unconditional love. While caring and comforting, the siblings’ mother is an enigmatic figure. She hardly gets upset, and seems almost indifferent at times; she wastes no energy on things she cannot control.
The movie gradually unveils the secrets of her past, which mostly involve her ex-lover, and these secrets eventually challenge the traditional, Korean notion of biological family relationships. The mother eventually lives her own life, fulfilling her own wants and needs, while still being the comforting figure to the children.
Actress Yoon Yeo-jeong, who played the cruel chaebol heiress in Im Sang-soo’s “The Taste of Money,” makes an interesting turn as a caring mother with a rather complicated past. Other actors ― Yoon Je-moon, Gong Hyo-jin, and Park Hae-il ― also bring entertaining performances, creating a number of tragic and hilarious moments.
The mother has no practical ability or power to solve her children’s problems. But her company and food certainly inspire them to step out of misery. Director Song seems to believe in the power of food to restore and nurture. “Boomerang Family” is a film about surviving the downs of life, and how those whom we call “family” can help in that ― just by their very existence.
A CJ Entertainment release, “Boomerang Family” opens in theaters on May 9.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)