The young hero of “My Brilliant Life” is an ideal son any parents want to have. Ah-reum is a smart boy who has lots of interest in astronomy, and he also shows his potential as a writer. When we meet him for the first time, he is occupied with writing a story about how his father met his mother and then accidentally got her pregnant on one fresh, green summer day.
If you think this does not look that realistic, I will tell you there are many other things in the movie you will find quite unrealistic. Although they happened to have their son even before they graduated from high school, Ah-reum’s parents have worked hard to make a good environment for raising their precious son, and they have been leading a modest but cozy family life at their home which sometimes looks too good considering their economic status.
This happy family does have a problem, but it is also something which can happen only in fiction. Ah-reum, played by young actor Jo Seong-mok with lots of make-up, was diagnosed with progeria disease, and that makes him age far more quickly than normal people. Although the patients with this rare genetic disease usually die even before entering adolescence, Ah-reum manages to live longer than expected; he is already 16, and he still feels optimistic about his few remaining years – or days, perhaps.
His parents are also as optimistic as him even though they know that they will lose their dear son sooner or later. Dae-soo(Kang Dong-won) has some immature sides which make him look like a big baby whenever he is with his precocious son, but he is a good dad who will do anything for Ah-reum, and the same thing can be said about his wife Mira(Song Hye-kyo), who has always stood by her son with lots of care and love since he was born.
As Ah-reum’s health condition is deteriorated day by day, Dae-soo and Mira face more medical bills than before(Ah-reum has to take many kinds of pills every day just like old people), so they appear in one of those sentimental TV programs which show poor people struggling with their hard life. Their TV appearance succeeds in drawing the attention from others. They are noticed or ridiculed by many people on the streets, and they also get many small donations along with a considerable amount of money from some anonymous donor, and Ah-reum begins his treatment at the hospital even though, as his kind doctor admits, it is just for merely slowing down the progress of his disease a bit.
Nevertheless, Ah-reum does not lose his spirit, and he comes across a possible romantic circumstance on one day. He gets a kind e-mail from someone unknown, and he begins to wonder whether he can get a short but valuable chance of romance through this anonymous friend with whom he shares lots of his personal feelings and thoughts.
This is a good set-up for your average weepy melodrama, and the movie initially seems to be ready with every material we can expect from ‘the disease of the week’ movie, but the movie curiously lacks a strong narrative drive to hold our attention. While it does arrive in its expected tearful third act with the appropriate amount of sadness to touch you, the screenplay by the director Lee Jae-yong, Choi Min-seok, and Oh Hyo-jin frequently feels loose and unfocused in its uneven mix of comedy and sentimentality, and its good moments do not connect with each other well enough to generate strong emotional effects. The screenplay is based on popular South Korean novel “My Palpitating Life”, and, as I started to become increasingly distant to the inattentive narrative of the movie, I came to have a feeling that there are probably a lot more things in the novel than what is shown in the film.
In the case of the actors in the movie, they are the last ones to be blamed. Kang Dong-won, who was a ruthless villain in “Kundo: Age of the Rampant”(2014) right before this movie is released in South Korean theaters, takes a 180 degrees turn here with his goofy but sincere performance. While his scenes are not always successful(I am not sure whether a subplot involved with Dea-soo’s new job is really necessary, for example), he and Song Hye-kyo are believable as caring parents on the screen, and they also do not look that awkward when they appear as the younger selves of their characters during a number of flashback scenes in the film.
Between his co-performers, Jo Seong-mok holds his own place as an aging boy who sometimes looks like a cheery live action version of that little old kid from Japanese animation film “Akira”(1988). In spite of my rather sarcastic reaction to his appearance, I came to sort of like Ah-reum although I was distracted by his way of speaking which feels more like an experienced adult than a teenager kid, and I also enjoyed the amusing interactions between him and a grumpy old neighbor played by Baek Il-seob.
“My Brilliant Life” shows admirable degrees of restraint during its weepy moments, and I appreciated its good parts, but it is still an unsatisfying work which could do better with its materials. I cannot overlook its visible flaws in storytelling, and I cannot possibly forget its artificial aspects which sometimes bothered me during my viewing. Considering the reactions I observed from the audiences surrounding me during last evening, I think this movie will appeal more to some of you, but I am now wondering whether I should have read the novel instead.