Run to the South (2013) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : Going his way to the South

small_runtothesouth01Although you cannot wholly agree with what he thinks and believes, the hero of South Korean comedy movie “Run to the South” is an interesting man to observe. He just wants to live his life in his own way, but he always gets himself into troubles because of his stubborn defiance. No matter what happens, he firmly sticks to his belief in the world he does not fit into, and his family stand by him as he keeps clashing with the world.

Although his past is mostly vague except few details, we can clearly see that Hae-gap(Kim Yoon-seok) is someone not so welcomed by any government in the world. He thinks the government is unnecessary because it only exists for ruling the people and confining them in the system, and he openly expresses his libertarian thoughts around the neighbourhood while causing big and small troubles in his daily life. Not so surprisingly, he is a frequent guest of the police station, and he does not even have to tell his name to the policemen because they have met before many, many times.

Although he recently made a social documentary which is shown at some ‘international documentary festival’, he is more or less than a jobless man at his home, and it is mostly his wife’s job to support the family. While he and his wife Bong-hee(Oh Yeon-soo) and their three children live in the upstairs, she runs a cafe at the downstairs, and she manages her business pretty well. The place is usually empty(as far as I can remember, only two customers are shown in the movie), but it is a nice and cozy place for having a cup of tea or coffee, and their home also feels comfortable, if not affluent. I really want to know about how she earns the money enough for providing such a good-looking environment for her customers and her family despite their hard financial situation.

small_runtothesouth02The movie draws small laughs mainly from Hae-gap’s casual anti-establishment behaviors during its first half. Due to his family members associated with North Korea and his left-wing activity in the past, the National Intelligence Service has been watching on him for years, so we get several funny moments involving a duo of bumbling agents on their surveillance job. Hae-gap seems to sense who they are when he has a close encounter with them, but I bet he won’t give a damn about them even if they directly reveal themselves to him.

Anyway, another trouble comes to his life through his old friend Man-deok(Kim Seong-gyoon). Man-deok’s hometown is about to be redeveloped into an expensive resort area by a greedy member of parliament, and he desperately wants to stop it. After Man-deok fails in his clumsy attempt to stop the process and then is arrested by the police, Hae-gap decides to move to Man-deok’s island with his family, who, except the eldest daughter, follows him to the south as the family members.

Their new house, which originally belongs to Man-deok, is a shabby place in the need of lots of repairs, but it is soon turned into a plain but adequate spot for spending your average summer holiday. Though they actually used the three islands during the production, the fictional island in the movie looks convincing as a small place in the middle of the sea, and I enjoyed its peaceful atmosphere coupled with natural beauty on the screen even when the story becomes languid during its second part. They do not have much money, but Hae-gap is a guy who really knows how to be self-sufficient, so the island quickly becomes their new home to Hae-gap’s family.

But their pastoral happiness does not last long, and the second part of the story centers around Hae-gap’s efforts to protect not only the house but also the island from the aforementioned politician and his business associates. While still being stubborn as usual, he is not a fool at all, and he has some plans for stopping their attempt to remove him and others from the island. It starts with a non-violent protest at first, but it becomes more serious as Hae-gap shows them how much he is determined to block their plan.

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Although Kim Yoon-seok’s good performance keeps the story moving forward, the movie is disappointingly mild and lackluster when it deals with its major conflict in the story. Even though there is a big explosion, the movie does not have enough tension and humor for this part, and it eventually fizzles with no lasting impression in the finale.

I do not know whether this problem was caused by the reported troubles during its problematic production, but the director Lim Soon-rye, who previously made “Forever the Moment”(2007) and “Riding Home with a Bull”(2010), does a fairly competent job here despite glaring flaws shown here and there in the movie. While Kim Yoon-seok is fun to watch as a guy who will not bend his principles even when he comes to face a threatening situation, the good cast surrounding him is regrettably underutilized in many cases due to the underdeveloped relationships between Hae-gap and their characters in the screenplay. I’d like to know more about the long-lasting relationship between Hae-gap and his wife, who has been loyal to him since their youthful years, and I’d also like to see how his children, who managed to grow up quite well despite his eccentricity, feel about their radical father. Hae-gap is not a bad father/husband, but it must take more than family love to live with such a difficult guy like him.

I came to learn that the movie is based on the Japanese novel written by Hideo Okuta, and my Internet acquaintances said the novel is better for many reasons. “Run to the South” is not boring, and there are indeed some enjoyable things in this unsatisfying comedy, but I am also disappointed because it does not fully utilize its interesting hero and the comic potential in him and others. It happily sails further to the South in the end, but I don’t care enough about it.

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