I came to have some reservation as watching South Korean film “I Want to Know Your Parents”, which is finally released here in South Korean theaters after being suspended for several years due to the allegations of sexual harassment on one of its main cast members. The movie is a competent piece of work on the whole, but I observed its story and characters from the distance with growing uneasiness and disgust during my viewing, and it also did not surprise or shock me much even when things got more complicated later in the story.
The movie opens with one terrible incident which will shake up the lives of its main characters in one way or another. At a lake not so far from some prestigious middle school, the unconscious body of one of its male students is found, and he is quickly taken to a hospital, but he remains unconscious during next several days. The headmaster of the school quickly holds a private meeting in his office, but he only invites the parents of four other students instead of that student’s widow mother, and there is a good reason for that. It turns out that student left a suicide note to his temporary class teacher, and his suicide note reveals that those four students have been bullying him for months.
While the teacher, played by Chun Woo-hee, sincerely wants some justice for that poor student, others at the meeting have a very different idea. The headmaster prefers to handle the situation as quietly as possible, and the parents of those four students are quite willing to cover up everything for their very selfish reason. Regardless of how much they actually care about their kids, the parents all want their kids’ supposedly promising future not to be tarnished by this unfortunate incident at any chance, and they actually have enough power and influence to do that.
And we see how the parents attempt to cover up the incident with some assistant from the headmaster, who promptly takes away that suicide note from that teacher. In case of a divorced lawyer played Sul Kyung-goo, he surely knows a lot about the criminal laws, and he begins to check out whether there will be anything which may lead their kids to any possible legal trouble. In case of a doctor played by Oh Dal-soo (This actor is the one accused of sexual harassment, by the way), he happens to be the head chief of some big hospital, so he arranges the transfer of that unfortunate student to his hospital. In case of a grandparent played by Kim Hong-pa, he happens to be ex-police commissioner, so he has some strings to be pulled behind his back. In case of a teacher played Ko Chang-seok, he and that teacher work in the same school, so he naturally begins to watch on her just in case.
As these rotten parents systemically work together, the movie, which is based on the Japanese play of the same name by Seigo Hitzawa, gives us a number of very uncomfortable scenes. It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that their kids bullied that poor student a lot just because of being different from them, but several disturbing flashback scenes will show you how cruel and nasty kids can be, and you will be chilled or disgusted by that. Watching how heartlessly their parents cover up the incident by any means necessary, you will see that these horrible kids are indeed the apples not falling that far from their trees, and you will be more repulsed as watching how their parents casually disregard the emotional devastation of that student’s poor mother.
In the end, not so surprisingly, Chun’s teacher character comes to disclose everything in public, and the movie subsequently enters the areas of courtroom drama after more police investigation on the incident. As delving more into what really happened around the time of that student’s suicide attempt, Sul’s lawyer character comes to see that there were some complex aspects behind the incident, and that surely reminds him again that what a lousy father he has been to his apparently problematic son.
What is eventually revealed during the last act will not surprise you much, especially if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me. Furthermore, the movie has become so cynical and pessimistic around that narrative point that its overtly melodramatic finale does not work as well as intended, and we are only reminded again of how those four students’ parents are no better, if not worse, than their kids.
The main cast members of the film are effective in their respective parts. Although his character is quite disgusting to say the least, Sul Kyung-gu provides some gravitas to the story, and Chun Woo-hee, who incidentally worked again with Sul in “Idol” (2019) after this movie, functions well as the voice of conscience in the story. Oh Dal-soo, Ko Chang-seok, and Kim Hong-pa are effectively deplorable as required by their despicable characters, and Moon So-ri is rather limited by her thankless supporting part.
In conclusion, “I Want to Know Your Parents” works to some degree because of director Kim Ji-woon’s good direction and the solid efforts from its main cast members, but many of its main characters are just banal and unpleasant people without much human interest or insight, and I do not know whether it is worthwhile to endure their superficial wickedness for around 2 hours. I do not mind feeling bad, but the movie merely made me feel bad without much entertainment or enlightenment, and that is all, folks.
thanks for your honest review of this movie.
I just started to watch the movie, and for the first half an hour, I stopped several times just to think about these parents’ reaction when they found out about the bullying content in a video.
I just re-think, to not to continue watching the movie since I read your review here.
How did you feel after watching this movie? If it was not give you any lesson, I think I will stop watching it.
SC: I was merely disgusted on the whole, so I did not recommend it even though it is not totally awful.