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  • Press Release| January 12, 2015 [FILM SCHOOL REJECTS] Ode to My Father Among the Best of This Week’s Limited Releases

    Yoon Duk-soo (Hwang Jeong-min) is an old man in modern day Busan, but he still keeps busy providing for his family both immediate and extended. His adult children crack wise about his refusal to slow down and focus on something other than money, but flashbacks to his earlier life reveal why he’s so driven. We see him as a young boy who along with his parents and siblings are attempting to evacuate their seaside village before the advancing Chinese arrive, and in the chaos and panic that ensues he loses his grip on his younger sister’s hand. His father jumps into the sea in search of her but not before passing “man of the house” responsibilities to young Duk-soo. From there we between the present and various stages of his life as his family and his efforts to support them grow in tandem.

    Director Jk Youn‘s last film was the disaster film Tidal Wave — it’s about a tidal wave — and he carries that film’s attempted balance between humor, spectacle and drama onto this project with more consistent results. There are moments of slapstick-like humor throughout, oftentimes separated by only a minute or so from scenes of loss, suffering and heartbreak. It doesn’t always work leading to moments that gags that feel too broad and moments that tease overwrought melodrama, but more often than not the film pulls viewers in to Duk-soo’s heartfelt adventure of life.

    Hwang is a big part of why it works — an impressive feat as part of the film requires him (and Kim Yunjim as his wife) to act beneath some less than successful old-age makeup — as he’s onscreen throughout and delivers a driven performance as a man determined to do whatever’s necessary. That drive takes Duk-soo to Germany as a miner and Vietnam as an engineer before he manages to settle down in Busan, and the globetrotting allows for mine disasters, gun fights with the Viet-Kong and a spectacularly presented explosion.

    Oddly, while Duk-soo is the one making the ode to his lost father, we don’t get to know any of his own children and their dialogue consists mostly of complaints without personality. That child connection is ultimately unnecessary though as Duk-soo’s story leaves plenty of room for familial drama. A sequence late in the film, one based on real televised events from Korea in the early ’80s, is guaranteed to lubricate your eyes.

    This is big biography the likes of which Hollywood rarely makes these days. The recent Unbroken tries, but it focuses more on ideas and themes than on the man at its center. Here though we simply have a man struggling like many before him and many after him, and it’s that familiarity that makes his tale so much more compelling.

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