[Herald Review] Korean family observed in ‘End of Winter’ 

By KH디지털2
  • Published : Apr 19, 2016 - 13:30
  • Updated : Apr 23, 2016 - 00:10

“End of Winter” tells the story of a Korean family.

This family is forced to stay together longer than originally intended when a snowstorm hits the northern city of Cheorwon, where its members have gathered for the retirement ceremony of the father, played by Moon Chan-gil, who is wrapping up his teaching career.

There’s the newlywed daughter-in-law, played by Lee Sang-hee, struggling to find favor with her new family; her husband, the eldest son played by Kim Min-hyuk, a pharmaceutical salesman as reserved and reticent as his father; and the lighthearted youngest son, played by Heo Jae-won, who is unfazed by the obvious tension surrounding him. 

Still from “End of Winter” (D. Seed)

The mother, Lee Young-ran, speaks her mind. She is quick to find fault with everything -- the food served at the restaurant, the weather and her sons, but most of all her husband, who looks thoroughly pained as he swigs his drinks without saying a word. Suddenly, the father announces he has decided to divorce the mother. She is outraged at this blindside, and the rest of the family tries to find out what has happened.

But no explanation is given, perhaps because no explanation is necessary. This is a movie that observes rather than explains, and in turn offers what might be the most thorough explanation possible. The camera lens watches the family sometimes from afar and sometimes up close, revealing old resentments that tend, inevitably, to pile up in families. It also shows the little things they do to show they still care for each other, in the least detectable ways possible.

As the two generations overlap and parallels are drawn between the younger and older couples, it becomes clear that the mother, too, was once an eager-to-please newlywed. The father, constantly folding his clothes and tidying the clutter in his surroundings, seems to have an unfulfilled longing to build something with his own two hands.

All the family members are highlighted in considerable depth, but it is the mother who stands out. Old age does not suit her; she has the air of a woman so used to taking charge that it is more difficult to just “be.” “I can’t breathe,” she repeats to her daughter-in-law, in whom she finds both a competitor and friend. 

Scenes show the mother venting her frustration at her indecipherable husband by throwing snowballs at him. When her daughter-in-law tells her that her eldest son does not, in fact, like potatoes, she refuses to believe her, because the fact that she might not know best is unacceptable. 

Still from “End of Winter” (D. Seed)

Glimpses of her loneliness, largely brought about by her own stubbornness, are well captured. But the movie makes no attempt to judge or fault her. The young wife that is still looking for approval and acceptance is still there, only now, she has been covered up by a need to take charge. And after all these years, it’s still hard to make her family happy. Only when she lets go a little and accepts things as they are -- “People each have their own preferences,” she eventually says -- does some form of peace reign.

The film has been called dispassionate, as cold as the icy Cheorwon landscape it captures. There are no warm displays of emotion or open discussions about the resentment simmering underneath every interaction. But at critical moments, like when a former colleague seems to belittle the father, his wife and his sons side fiercely with him.

It’s a different kind of reconciliation, one that is unspoken and doesn’t involve lengthy conversations -- that is not the Korean way. It’s a reconciliation all the same, and it is unconditional.

The years of grudges don’t disappear, but they eventually become overshadowed by familial bond, even if the family separates. You eat the potatoes, even if you don’t like them. The family may not be considerate of your tastes, but it never wants you to be hungry.

“End of Winter,” the debut feature of director Kim Dae-hwan and a project of the Graduate School of Cinematic Content at Dankook University, won the New Currents Prize at the Busan International Film Festival in 2014. It will open in local theaters on April 21.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)