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My Father
My Father

Kim Young-Cheol (left) shows Daniel Henney (right) some fatherly love in My Father.
Korean: 마이 파더
Year: 2007  
Director: Hwang Dong-Hyeuk  
Writer: Hwang Dong-Hyeuk, Joon Jin-Ho  
  Cast: Daniel Henney, Kim Young-Cheol, Ahn Seok-Hwan, Kim In-Kwon, Choi Jung-Ryul, Moon Jae-Won, Kim Dong-Ah, Choi Jeong-Won
  The Skinny: This emotionally intense melodrama delivers not only a breakthrough performance for heartthrob Daniel Henney, but also for first-time director Hwang Dong-Hyeuk.
   
Review
by
Kevin Ma:

Half-Korean heartthrob Daniel Henney finally gets a chance to stretch his acting chops with My Father, an emotional melodrama about an adopted Korean man who returns to look for his birth father. Up to now, Henney has only starred in typical romantic comedy roles such as Seducing Mr. Perfect, in which all he had to do was show up and look good. Without a romance subplot this time, Henney can no longer simply rely on his good looks to get through the film. Under first time director Hwang Dong-Hyeuk, Henney manages to take the challenge head-on and becomes the most pleasantly surprising aspect of the film.

Henney plays James Parker, a young Korean man who was adopted by American parents 20 years ago. Now grown up, James enlists in the army to search for his biological parents in Korea, despite some opposition from his family. "You might regret it after you find them," his adopted Korean sister warns, suggesting that these kinds of searches tend to end unhappily. After going on TV and being reported in the newspaper, a priest eventually contacts James and helps him meet his father for the first time. However, his father is a convicted murderer on death row, limiting their reunion to only a meeting through prison glass.

Even though the film is based on the true story of Aaron Bates, director Hwang and his co-writer Yoon Jin-Ho amp up the drama, posing a true acting challenge for what is only Henney's second film starring role. Here, the novice actor has to cry, scream, smile, and even sing, stretching every possible emotion out of James Parker. Henney does step up and delivers a believable performance, thanks to the numerous "give me an award" moments provided throughout. While that's good news for Henney, the various soul-baring moments begin to appear manufactured for cinematic purposes. By the time James delivers a public monologue about his feelings in front of passerbys and military police, one almost expects Henney to simply break the fourth wall and begin speaking to the audience. Scenes like this don't belong in reality, and they threaten to wear out their "based on a true story" credibility.

However, such overdramatic moments are nothing new in the Korean melodrama genre. Worth noting here is that Hwang's ability to bring an effective degree of dramatic intensity to his feature film debut, creating an emotional cinematic experience that affects. The music swelling during an emotional scene may be an overused melodrama technique, but it works to a degree here. However, Hwang also tries to put in too much beyond the central story, including subplots about arrogant American soldiers who are more stereotypes than flesh-and-blood. Instead of a film simply about adopted Korean children in the United States (a subject Hwang also tackled in his 2004 short film), the ambitious young director also seems to be aiming for a socially conscious film about the American military presence in Korea. It's simply too much to put into one film, and Hwang thankfully brings the film back to the central father-son relationship by the second act, giving the film a much-needed focus.

While Henney gets the spotlight for his breakthrough performance, mentions should also go to Kim Young-Cheol, who plays James' biological father Nam-Cheol. It's hard to believe that this is the actor who played the elegantly evil crime boss in A Bittersweet Life. Kim's performance as the down-and-out Nam-Cheol is heartbreaking, eliciting sympathy from the first moment his aged face and deformed body enters the screen. Kim's performance most likely helped Henney elevate his own performance as well, especially during the several emotionally intense exchanges in the prison visiting room during the latter half of the story. Their performances help in making the emotional scenes work by not crossing the thin line into overacting.

Despite its cookie-cutter melodramatic screenplay, My Father stands up slightly above the rest not only because of two strong lead performances (Yes, Daniel Henney can act), but also because of surprisingly assured direction by a first-time director. While everyone has room to improve at any given point in their careers, I personally cannot wait to see where a bit of improvement will take Hwang's next film. (Kevin Ma 2008)

   
Notes:

• This review is based on the Theatrical Cut of My Father. The Director's Cut restores about 12 minutes of extra footage, including more scenes of James with his adopted parents and more scenes of Nam-Cheol in prison. However, the theatrical cut is solid enough as it is.

 
Availability:

Korea (DVD)
Region 3 NTSC
EnterOne
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras

 

   
 
 
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