Third Window Films
Film director In-mo is, quite literally, at the end of his rope. He’s partway through a divorce, his last movie bombed, he’s about to get evicted and is seriously considering taking his own life. Just when it seems all hope is lost his mother invites him home and, convinced that he has run out of options, he immediately agrees. Unfortunately it appears that his ex-convict slob of a brother, Han-mo, has had the same idea... as has their sister Mi-yun, who also turns up with her teenage daughter Min-kyung in tow after a failed marriage of her own. Somehow these three grown-up children and cynical adolescent have to learn how to live together while trying keeping their sanity – and dignity – intact.
Although it was released under an original title that translates into "The Ageing Family", this delightful offering from Song Hae-sung is given what is possibly an even more appropriate one internationally. Although the setting is very clearly Korean with its working-class Seoul locations, its premise will resonate with many viewers around the world because the situation of grown adults having to move back in with their parents is becoming increasingly commonplace as the complications of twenty-first Century life catch up with them. As children grow up and have families of their own, the previous generation sees attitudes and values change, while the old-fashioned adage of blood being thicker than water apparently still counts for a lot.
The comedy on show in Boomerang Family is often dark and acerbic but also quite ‘everyday’ and universal, requiring no familiarity with language or culture-specific references and wordplay. It’s all about parents and siblings arguing, reconciling and helping (as well as sometimes hindering!) one another when coming to terms with the challenges that life throws at them. White lies give way to home truths, bickering and fighting becomes respect and understanding, and lifelong ties are tested by long-buried secrets.
Boomerang Family really is at its best when it’s making use of the chemistry between the cast, who squabble and fall out in a way that is sometimes cringe-inducing, but for that very reason is also I think hilariously familiar to many of us. Things do get serious later on when Min-kyung finally has enough of her mother and two uncles and runs away from home, but it’s not until a sub-plot involving Han-mo’s criminal past takes centre stage that the storyline derails. Things are steered back on course well enough in time for the final act, but I personally preferred it when it was playing to its strengths as a straightforward family sitcom.
One of my favourite scenes follows a rare day out to the beach in which the family all sit around a table in a restaurant and get on with their usual petty banter. As the discussion becomes increasingly heated, other diners are dragged into the argument but at that point the two brothers set aside their differences to defend their sister and, as Min-kyung looks on with typical teenage distain, her elderly grandmother laconically sips her tea and later remarks that this chaotic excursion was actually rather fun. I couldn’t help but agree with her.
Despite the dark and somewhat violent tangent in its latter half, the story does return to its old sedately-paced self in time for a resolution that is I suppose a tad predictable, but is thoroughly satisfying nonetheless. It’s really the colourful array of characters that carries it, from the oafish Yoon Je-moon to the (relatively) dignified matriarch Youn Yuh-jung: their flaws and failings are plain to see, but for all that they pull together when secrets spill out and things get really tough. It’s this grudgingly-admitted devotion to one another that endeared them to me, and allowed me to see past the insults and put-downs and view them as they really are: a modern family of (more or less) ordinary people trying to get by as best they can.
Visually, Boomerang Family is far from glamorous but its down-to-earth setting is actually quite refreshing and serves to reiterate how these events are those that affect ordinary people. Lee Jae-jin’s guitar-driven, latin American-inspired soundtrack is light and unobtrusive, enhancing the jovial atmosphere and preventing the events from coming across as melodramatic.