South Korean independent film “Move the Grave” revolves around four different sisters and their little family matter. As humorously observing the rocky interactions among them, the movie also throws some sharp jabs at the main source of their frustration and exasperation, and we come to understand and emphasize more with their conflicting thoughts and feelings while getting to know them more in the end.
As introducing its four main characters one by one, the movie sets up their imminent situation. When she receives a notification on her dead father’s grave which will be soon exhumed and then buried somewhere else, Hye-yeong (Jang Liu) promptly gathers her three younger sisters Geum-ok (Lee Seon-hee), Guem-hee (Gong Min-jung), and Hye-yeon (Yoon-geum Seon-ah) together, but it is clear to us that they do not care that much about this personal business of theirs. As revealed later in the story, their father did not pay much attention or affection to them throughout their life, and they were always pushed aside for their younger brother Seung-rak (Kwak Min-gyoo), from whom their parents expected a lot because, well, he was their only son.
While reminded of how much they have been estranged from each other, Hye-yeong and her three sisters try to reach to their younger brother, but Seung-rak seems to be out of the reach as not answering their phone calls at all, and they are not so surprised. It is implied through their casual conversations that Seung-rank is your typical loser who has been up to no good, and it looks like he has been hiding again after causing some trouble.
Anyway, Hye-yeong eventually decides that they should just go together to their old rural hometown for meeting her father’s older brother Gwan-taek (Yoo Soon-woong), but, as they expected, they face the strong objection from their uncle, who, as your typical conservative South Korean male, sternly insists that Seung-rak should be present as the head of the family. Hye-yeong and her sisters are certainly exasperated about that, but they have no choice but to locate and then bring their younger brother because they need some cooperation from their uncle.
While Hye-yeong and her sisters search for their younger brother, we observe more of their respective problems. As a single mother who has raised her young son alone, Hye-yeong has struggled with several problems including her recent unemployment, and her young son, who seems to have a serious case of behavioral problem, does not much help her much while quite oblivious to what is going on among his mother and aunts. Geum-ok turns out to be quite discontent with her married life, and Geum-hee has also been dissatisfied with a man she is supposed to marry soon. In case of Hye-yeon, she is more active and outgoing in comparison as passionately fighting for female rights in her college campus, but, as reflected by one brief scene in the middle of the film, she has been frustrated as much as her older sisters.
It is not much of a spoiler to say that our four ladies eventually come to locate their younger brother, but then the screenplay by director/writer Jeong Seung-o gives us several small surprises as slowly rolling its main characters together to the eventual arrive point of his story. The scene where our four ladies confront their younger brother along with a certain supporting character is balanced well between humor and drama, and then we come to see more of how petty and cowardly their younger brother really is. When all of the characters in the story later come to gather at one spot, we can clearly sense the growing tension beneath the seemingly cheery mood, and what is inevitably erupted next among them will not surprise you much.
Nevertheless, the movie also recognizes the remaining family bond among its characters, and its climactic part is followed by a quieter scene where they come to cool themselves down a bit. I think the finale is rather mild as resolving the main conflict of the story a little too easily, but the movie still handles its story and characters with enough care and humor, and we come to root for Hye-yeong and her sisters more around the final shot of the film.
In addition, the movie is supported well by its solid ensemble performance. While Jang Liu diligently holds the ground as required, Lee Seon-hee, Gong Min-jung, and Yoon-geum Seon-ah are appropriately colorful in their respective roles, and they and Jang are constantly spontaneous in their interactions on the screen. While Kwak Min-gyoo, Yoo Soon-wong, and Kang Seon-sook are believable as the other family members in the story, Song Hee-joon has her own small moment as the aforementioned supporting character, and Kang Min-joon, a young performer who effortlessly stole the show in “The World of Us” (2016), also holds his own small place well as Hye-yeong’s problematic son.
Although it could hit at its main targets harder, “Move the Grave” is still a funny and engaging family drama film on the whole, and I must say that it often reminded me of what I frequently observed from the six daughters of one of my uncles, who incidentally died around six years ago. Because of some personal conflict which caused lots of anger and resentment among them, they will probably not be together for the rest of their life, but I am sure that they will see a lot of themselves from the movie if they ever see the movie together.