The Asian Angel (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Accidental travelers

“The Asian Angel” simply rolls along with its two different sets of characters and then observes what occurs between these two contrasting groups. Despite the considerable language barrier between their groups, the main characters in the film somehow manage to make some communication between them, and the movie calmly and sensitively depicts their accidental journey as alternating between amusement and poignancy.

In the beginning, we meet Tsuyoshi Aoki (Sosuke Ikematsu), a young struggling Japanese writer who has been a widower since his wife’s recent death. Because his older brother Toru (Joe Odarigi), who has been doing some small shady business in Seoul, South Korea, promised to him that things will be better for him and his young son Manabu (Ryo Sato) in Seoul, Tsuyoshi comes to Seoul along with Manabu, but the situation does not look that promising to him to say the least. While he cannot speak Korean at all, he is bothered a lot by the current political hostility between Japan and South Korea, and it also turns out that Toru is not living as well as he has boasted.

Anyway, Tsuyoshi tries to do his best under this rather depressing circumstance for himself as well as his son, and Toru seems to try more for his younger brother and nephew, but, alas, there comes a big problem. They suddenly find on one day that Toru’s South Korean associate runs away with nearly all of the money belonging to Toru, and Toru and Tsuyoshi consequently become quite despondent. When Toru suggests that they should go to a small city on the east coast for the possible avenue of profit, Tsuyoshi agrees to go along with him despite his reservation because, well, there is no choice for him at present besides that.

Meanwhile, the movie also pays attention to Choi Seol (Choi Hee-seo), a young South Korean woman who has been struggling with her sinking music career. She was once a fairly promising new singer some years ago, but, as briefly reflected by one scene showing her accidental encounter with Tsuyoshi, she has been stuck in a daunting situation without any possibility for comeback. To make matters worse, she may have to accept whatever she is demanded to do by a certain rich and powerful prick who can help her reviving his career, and that makes her much more depressed than before.

We also get to know Seol’s two siblings: her old brother Jung-woo (Kim Min-jae) and her younger sister Po-mu (Kim Ye-eun). Both Jung-woo and Seol have respectively tried their best for earning enough money for them and their dear younger sister, but these three siblings are not particularly cordial to each other even though they have lived together in a small residence. When Jung-woo, who seems rather dim but is a decent good guy nonetheless, suggests that they should visit their parents’ grave together, Seol is not so interested as being occupied with that impending matter on her life and career, but then she agrees to go along with her two siblings because, well, there is nothing else to do for her now.

Of course, Seol and her two siblings happen to come across Tsuyoshi and his two family members on a train to the east coast area, and Toru impulsively decides that he and Tsuyoshi should hang around with Seol and her younger sister for a while at least. Jung-woo does not welcome this much at first, but then he does not mind this at all mainly because Toru is willing to pay for the hotel rooms for him and his two sisters, and the mood becomes a bit more relaxed as everyone comes to enjoy a dinner together later.

After learning of Seol’s ongoing problem, Tsuyoshi comes to care more about her despite the language barrier between them, and he and his two family members come to spend more time with Seol and her two siblings on the next day. When they all happen to be stuck in some remote rural area, Seol suddenly has an unexpected medical emergency, and that reminds Tsuyoshi a lot of his dear wife’s recent death. He has not gotten over her death yet, but he also finds himself getting closer to Seol, and Seol does not mind this at all because she needs someone to lean on.

Even at that point, the screenplay by director/writer Yuya Ishii continues its leisurely stroll along with its main characters as they keep moving together from one narrative point to another. When they happen to spend another night together later in the story, the mood becomes warmer and more humorous than before, and you will be amused and then touched by when Tsuyoshi struggles to make more connection with Seol at one point. I must say that a certain plot element mentioned by the main characters more than once is blatantly symbolic, but I will not deny that I was tickled by when that plot element is fully shown on the screen around the ending of the film.

The main cast members of the movie are all solid in their humble ensemble acting. While Sosuke Ikematsu and Joe Odagiri complement well each other, Choi Hee-seo, who was memorable in “Anarchist from Colony” (2017), Kim Min-jae, and Kim Ye-eun are believable as three different siblings who do not get along that well with each other, young performer Ryo Sato holds his own small place among his adult co-performers despite mostly remaining quiet and silent throughout the film.

On the whole, “The Asian Angel” is a modest but engaging hybrid between Japanese and South Korean cinema, and I enjoyed how it gradually attains a sort of equilibrium between Japanese and South Korean characters despite some strains in the beginning. After all, it is always interesting to watch different people making connection with understanding and empathy, and the movie did that job well for us in my trivial opinion.

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