This Week in South Korean Film - 1/27/2021

Sisters, Separation, and Soldiers

The closest flick this week has to a major release is 3 Sisters. It has a strong cast, with three reasonably well known female leads and the legendary Moon So-ri having the lead credit. It also comes from director Lee Seung-won, who’s made a few movies that had some presence on the festival circuit but nowhere else. I’ve reviewed Communication and Lies here, and Happy Bus Day here. The short version is that both movies are…really weird and dysfunctional. So for 3 Sisters to be more of a typical family drama is kind of interesting, and has me wondering whether a more high scale production tempered Lee Seung-won’s style or if he was deliberately selected to make a weird dysfunctional movie on a bigger profile.

Unfortunately all I can say for sure is that the higher level production, complete with hired security, very successfully denied me entry to the press screening, so it looks like I’m not reviewing it. Why anyone would do such a thing I have no idea. Well, that’s not true, I’ve had negative experiences at press screenings before, but I was under the impression that the film companies that don’t consider me a journalist had already taken me off their lists. If they’re going to reject my application they could at least have the decency to send me a notice first so I don’t have to waste time going to the theater. It remains unclear, of course, whether they actually rejected me or if there was some sort of technical snafu. Either way preventing people from attending press screenings is just plain bizarre practice, particularly in my case since who knows if or when anyone will review 3 Sisters in English now.

Now, The ABCs of Our Relationship did not treat me in such a rude manner, and consequently, I have a review for you right here. Regrettably it’s not a very positive review but…better than nothing right? I do suspect there might be a niche for The ABCs of Our Relationship somewhere in international distribution, simply because so much of the dialog is in English and this English dialog directly addresses the South Korean social problem of overseas adoption. The movie does not, in my opinion, address this idea very successfully, or necessarily even accurately, but it’s such a difficult topic for non-Koreans to properly research I imagine the family separation hook could prove a convincing one. Even the various other underdeveloped social issues addressed in The ABCs of Our Relationship may pique the interest of your typical Korea watcher, though more likely than not it will bore the typical Korea understander.

The last most relevant release this week discusses a social issue of a very different stripe. Toy Soldiers: Fake Men 2 The Complete is an edited version of the online variety show of the same name. It features Korean YouTube celebrities undergoing boot camp, typically ones who due to either being foreigners or exempted for some other reason, never underwent mandatory military service. Technically Fake Men is actually a parody of the MBC variety show Real Men. Although South Korean variety shows have such a strong self-parody element, I’m not sure that actually means anything beyond Fake Men utilizing rather more offbeat celebrities than Real Men did. Fake Men has also suffered much controversy in between overly violent footage as well as ex parte accusations regarding the personal conduct of the stars.

If you want to watch Toy Soldiers the Kakao page is here, although there are of course no English subtitles and it might be region locked. The film version is said to include more of the violent footage that was deemed too extreme for YouTube. Although if you’re really interested in the concept I’d honestly just suggest you watch Real Men instead. I’d imagine most of it is English subtitled by now, somewhere anyway, and it was actually a pretty big cultural touchstone throughout the teens. At any rate you’ll probably learn something about what mandatory military service is like, which in itself is a very huge deal in Korean culture that a lot of foreigners don’t appreciate.