This Week in South Korean Film - 12/30/2020

The Phillipines, the Press, and the Personality

With Christmas season over new movies are coming out for the New Year’s stretch. In terms of box office none of the movies I discuss this week will have much of a presence, with all of them being fairly deliberate streaming releases. Sunshine Family is the only one with any kind of pretense of being intended for theatrical distribution. It’s not yet available over the top even though the other two are.

Sunshine Family may be the most interesting movie to readers here, though, if only because it bears the distinction of being cast largely by foreigners. All four of the core cast members in Sunshine Family are Filipino, specifically members of the title family. Migrant workers in South Korea are quite invisible normally, rendering the particular timing of the movie fairly apropos in the context of recent reports regarding abuse and mistreatment of such migrant workers. But don’t expect anything so serious from the movie proper. Despite the English/Korean subbed trailer giving the impression that the family may be murderers, the adaptation is clearly in a sympathetically humorous and satirical vein, being based on, of all things, the 1992 Japanese movie The Hit-And-Run Family.

Next, the documentary Nepotism - The Story of Two Newspapers gets into the history of the Chosun Ilbo and the Donga Ilbo, two of South Korea’s most popular newspapers. Despite the insistence of those newspapers, and really any old newspaper in the world, that they’re continuing a century long tradition of promoting press freedom, the reality of that history has quite a few more warts than they’d like us to believe. Unfortunately while Sunshine Family definitely has English subtitles (since it premiered at an international film festival), Nepotism - The Story of Two Newspapers is unlikely to get an English language release as media documentaries are a fairly niche topic even in South Korea.

Speaking of niche topics, What Happened to Mr. Cha? will be the first South Korean Netflix film of the new year, making it the only movie I’m writing about this week you can actually watch in English. Why anyone would want to do so I have absolutely no idea. The whole feature is centered around actor and television personality Cha In-pyo and I have to emphasize, he isn’t really that well-known even in South Korea. This does, to be fair, appear to be a central part of the movie’s premise, which is self-described as being an absurd comedy revolving around a washed up actor.

How such a movie could even get funding, let alone an international Netflix release, is quite beyond me. Nevertheless, having thrown so much unprompted shade at the project, I suppose the least I could do is review it this week. My review might already be available at the link above depending on when you read this. Take care!