South Korean comedy film “More Than Family” surprised me more than expected. At first, it seems to be merely depending on one absurd comic story premise, but then it comes to show more depth in terms of story and characters, and then it surprises us again as handling its story and characters with considerable common sense and thoughtfulness without never losing its comic momentum at all.
Kristal, a popular South Korean entertainer whose real name is Jung Soo-jeong, plays To-il, a young female college student who recently decides to go along with a big change in her life. During last several months, she has been romantically involved with a high school student under her private tutelage, and that leads to her unexpected pregnancy (Don’t worry – he has already entered his adulthood), but she is not bothered by this happening much. Having been pregnant for more than 5 months, she is determined to give birth to her baby, and she has already planned everything including her future career plan as well as how to marry and live with her boyfriend.
Of course, her parents are not so amused when To-il and her boyfriend announce the news of her pregnancy to them. While To-il’s stepfather tries to be calm and reasonable in accepting this unexpected news, To-il’s mother comes to have a big argument with To-il on whether To-il’s plan for the next 5 years is sensible or not, and that makes an amusing contrast with her boyfriend’s rather eccentric parents, who actually accept her with genuine enthusiasm when To-il and their son break the news to them later.
Meanwhile, as wondering more about whether everything will turn out to be all right for her and her boyfriend in the end, To-il comes to feel a sudden urge to track down her biological father, who has never contacted with her or her mother for years since she and her mother left him shortly after his divorce. Assuming that he is still living and working as a teacher in her hometown, To-il checks the schools in her hometown thoroughly, and she eventually narrows down to three candidates whose names are same as her biological father’s.
Now this is surely a familiar setup which may take you back to “Mamma Mia!” (2008), but the screenplay by director/writer Choi Ha-na briskly moves from one narrative point to another instead of merely dwelling on that. After coming straight down to her hometown for finding her biological father, To-il visits the house of her maternal grandparents, and we get a little amusing moment as her maternal grandparents respond to her unexpected visit and pregnancy in each own way. As dropping by a local restaurant day by day, To-il comes to befriend a little girl who is the daughter of the owner of the restaurant, and this little girl naturally takes To-il back to those old childhood memories in her past.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that To-il eventually gets her wish, but then the movie continues to roll its story and characters beyond that crucial narrative point. I will not go into details here for not ruining your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that I was impressed by how the movie deftly dials up and down the level of hilarity as To-il and several other main characters of the film bounce together here and there. In case of one extended comic sequence, the movie simply observes the characters’ interactions without any interruption, but it gradually accumulates more comedy via the dynamic interactions among them until it reaches to the high point, and then we are served with a small nice visual punchline to be savored.
Above all, the movie works as a fabulous showcase for the acting talent of its lead actress, and Kristal is simply terrific as ably carrying the film with her energetic comic performance. While often impulsive and tempestuous in her behaviors, To-il is still a smart and plucky girl who is really serious about her pregnancy and other life matters of hers, and Kristal did a commendable job of bringing considerable humanity to her character while never overlooking her character’s brash and edgy aspects. As a result, To-il comes to us as someone who is as lovable and interesting as the young heroine of Jason Reitman’s “Juno” (2007), and we naturally come to root for her a lot as she eventually arrives at her sensible conclusion followed by the feel-good ending of the movie.
Furthermore, Choi assembles a number of colorful supporting performers around her lead actress. As To-il’s understandably concerned parents, Jang Hye-jin and Choi Deok-mon mostly play their characters straight as required, and they are complemented well by Kang Mal-geum and Nam Moon-chul, who surely have some silly fun as the eccentric parents of To-il’s boyfriend. While Lee Hae-young is solid as To-il’s biological father, Shin Jae-whi is hilariously naïve and slow-witted as To-il’s boyfriend, and Jang Haet-sal, Lee Jin-joo, Kim Mi-hyang, and Kim Sam-il are also well-cast in their small supporting roles.
Packed with uproarious moments equipped with witty and snappy dialogues as well as precise good timing, “More than Family”, which is the first feature film directed by Choi, is funny and entertaining on the whole, and it is certainly smarter and fresher than many of recent South Korean comedy films. Like “Lucky Chan-sil” (2019) and “Samjin Company English Class” (2020), the movie is one of the most pleasant surprises from South Korean cinema during this year, so I recommend you to give it a chance someday.