In my inconsequential opinion, South Korean film “December Spring” is a bit too generous to its rather unlikable hero. While it is often amusing to observe how awkward he looks under a very serious family situation during its first two acts, the movie unfortunately stumbles more than once as clumsily trying to draw pity and sympathy from us during its last act, and that is a shame considering the fairly good efforts from its lead actor and several supporting performers surrounding him,
During the opening scene, the movie succinctly establishes the ongoing circumstance of Ho-seong (Son Hyun-joo) and his several family members. His father recently passed away, and Ho-seong’s mother and his younger brother Jong-seong (Park Hyuk-kwon) have certainly been grieving over his father’s death, but he does not care much about that as still feeling quite bitter about his father. When he was sent to a prison 8 years ago due to his longtime involvement with a local gang organization, Ho-seong and his father became more distant to each other, and he presides over the funeral along with Jong-seong just because that is what he is expected to do as his father’s older son.
As he and other family members handle those visitors who come and then go, we get to know more about how Ho-seong has been estranged from his two children, who dutifully assist Ho-seong and Jong-seong without much complaint even though they do not care that much about their father. While Ho-seong’s son is an aspiring young actor, Ho-seong does not understand his son’s hope and ambition much, and Ho-seong’s son has been accustomed to that. In case of Ho-seong’s daughter, she is soon going to get married, but she does not feel that comfortable when her fiancé comes for showing condolence to her family. After all, having a criminal father is something one cannot be that proud of, isn’t it?
Anyway, it looks like there will not be much problem or annoyance at the funeral except Ho-seong’s alcoholic childhood friend who has already drunken a lot, but we sense a trouble when a certain type of guys begin to appear one by one. Most of them turn out to be Ho-seong’s old criminal associates, and they are all supposed to behave well just like any other visitors, but Ho-seong’s family members cannot help but feel nervous as these criminal figures often gather here and there inside and outside the funeral building. Ho-seong emphasizes to his concerned mother that nothing serious will happen because of them, but it turns out that, as reflected by one brief moment, he is also worried behind his sullen façade.
While he is a bit pleased to get some attention from many of his criminal associates, Ho-seong is also reminded of a certain hard fact about his current status. While he was in the prison, many of his criminal associates moved on without looking back at him at all, and they are not so willing to help his return to their mean streets. Above all, he is no longer that tough guy feared by a lot of thugs years ago, and it goes without saying that he will probably end up being poor and alone during the rest of his life.
And then there comes to Ho-seong a little good idea when he checks all those money envelopes given to him and his family by many visitors to the funeral. I will not go into details for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that I enjoyed how Ho-seong’s following scheme is smoothly developed and then executed step by step.
Of course, not so surprisingly, things eventually go beyond Ho-seong’s control later, and that is where the movie becomes less engaging than before. While we come to learn of the personal motive behind his dirty scheme, Ho-seong remains to be your average petty sullen thug, and we still observe him from the distance even when he becomes a little more expressive later in the story. In addition, the movie sometimes tries too hard for generating laughs from us, and that distracting aspect is exemplified well by Ho-seong’s childhood friend, who is more or less than a buffoon to do one silly thing after another.
Nevertheless, the movie is held together to some degree by Son Hyun-joo, a South Korean character actor who has steadily worked for more than 30 years. Unlike the movie itself, Son depicts many human flaws of his character without any excuse, and that is why the overlong epilogue scene has a bit of poignancy, though his solid performance still deserves something edgier and more uncompromising.
In case of several other performers surrounding Son, they did their best for filling their stereotype roles as much as they can. While Park Hyuk-kwon complements Son well during a number of key scenes between them, Jung Suk-yong is unfortunately stuck in overacting modes as demanded by his clownish role, and Park Sojin, Jung Ji-hwan, and Son Sook are well-cast in their respective supporting parts.
In conclusion, “December Spring”, which is directed by Lee Don-ku, is not wholly successful mainly because of its weak storytelling, and I wish Son and several cast members of the film were allowed to delve more into their characters. To be frank with you, the movie is thankfully less boring than many funerals I had to attend, but I still think it could be more entertaining, and I will let you decide on whether my assessment on the film is correct or not.