Another Child (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Two mothers, Two daughters

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South Korean film “Another Child” surprised me. Although it begins with a rather soapy promise, the movie engaged and interested me more than expected as showing considerable humor, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness in its deft handling of story and characters, and it also distinguishes itself a lot as something quite rare in South Korean movies these days: a complex character drama mainly driven by female characters.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Joo-ri (Kim Hye-joon), an adolescent girl who has recently found that her father Dae-won (Kim Yun-seok) has been cheating on her mother. He has had an affair with a woman named Mi-hee (Kim So-in) during last several months, and we see Joo-ri secretly watching on her father as he and his colleagues go inside a restaurant run by Mi-hee, but then she happens to be spotted by Mi-hee by coincidence.

And that is how Joo-ri comes to encounter Mi-hee’s teenage daughter Yoon-ah (Park Se-jin), who has incidentally attended Joo-ri’s school. On the next day, they meet each other again, and they come to see that both of them do not like what has been going on between Mi-hee and Dae-won, but, unfortunately, they only find themselves conflicting over what to do about that. Joo-ri wants her father’s affair with Yoon-ah’s mother to be ended as soon as possible without being exposed to her dear mother Yeong-joo (Yun Jung-ah), but, after some quarrel with Joo-ri, Yoon-ah promptly discloses her mother’s affair to Joo-ri’s mother.

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What follows next is a tense but amusing situation for Joo-ri and her parents. Quite oblivious to what is going on behind his back, Dae-won does not sense anything wrong from his wife and daughter, and Joo-ri cannot help but feel nervous about what may happen sooner or later while Yeong-joo is understandably a little more distant to her husband than usual.

Meanwhile, the situation turns out to be more complicated that it seemed at first. Mi-hee has been pregnant with Dae-won’s child as a matter of fact, and, to Yoon-ah’s displeasure, she seems to be willing to raise the child regardless of how that will affect her relationship with Dae-won, who still does not know anything about her pregnancy.

Of course, there subsequently comes a breaking point for the four main female characters in the film, but the movie rolls its story and characters further in an unexpected way. While there are a couple of catfight scenes as expected, the movie generates more humor and drama as calmly showing what happens next among its four female main characters, and we cannot help but amused and touched as observing the dynamic and complex interactions among them. All of them are presented with considerable human depth, and we come to emphasize more with them while also caring a lot about how they are going to handle their complicated circumstance.

Constantly balanced well between humor and drama, the screenplay by director Kim Yun-seok and his co-writer Lee Bo-ram, which is based on a play written by Lee, smoothly moves from one narrative point to another. While the situation becomes a bit more melodramatic during its last act, the movie does not lose any of its sense of humor at all, and I must say I was quite amused by a rather morbidly humorous aspect of its final scene.

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By the way, the movie is the first feature film directed by Kim, who has been mainly known for his excellent performances in a number of notable South Korean films including “The Chaser” (2008). While its overall result looks rather modest on the whole, the movie shows that Kim is a good director who really knows how to present story and characters well enough to hold our attention, and I particularly appreciate one major scene between his character and Yeong-joo, which effectively and succinctly utilizes lighting and scene composition for intended emotional effects.

Besides willingly throwing himself into the pathetic aspects of his character, who is inarguably unlikable as the origin of all the troubles in the movie, Kim humbly steps aside for the other four main performers in the film, who surely have each own juicy moments throughout the movie. While Yum Jung-ah, who recently appeared in “Intimate Strangers” (2018), and Kim So-jin, who previously played supporting roles in “The Spy Gone North” (2018) and “The Drug King” (2018), complement well each other with their contrasting personalities, newcomers Kim Hye-joon and Park Se-jin hold their own place well as another crucial part of the story, and I sincerely hope that we will see more from these two young talented actresses. In case of other cast members of the film, Lee Hee-joon, Lee Jeong-eun, Lee Sang-hee, Yum Hye-ran, and Kim Hee-won are also fun to watch in their small supporting roles, and the special mention goes to Jeong Jong-joon, who provides some gravitas to a certain scene later in the movie.

In conclusion, “Another Child” is not only the brilliant showcase of its four female main cast members but also a wonderful debut work which surely demonstrates another side of Kim’s talent. Considering all those gritty male characters he played during last 10 years, the movie is a total surprise, and it will be really interesting to see what may come next from him after this small but significant achievement.

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