Dir/scr: Kim Dong-hyun. South Korea. 2013. 125mins
Slow-paced and ultimately unsatisfying, director and writer Kim Dong-hyun’s (A Shark, Hello Stranger) latest film The Dinner, that premiered at the Busan International Film Festival as the closing film, fails to dish up the necessary ingredients to make this family melodrama resonate beyond the closing credits despite its sincere intentions.
Director Kim Dong-hyun attempts to adopt a minimalist but refined approach to his filmmaking, which at times pays off giving the film an earnest dimension.
The exposure in Busan will help it gain more attention that it otherwise wouldn’t have found and therefore may attract the attention of some festival programmers, but lacking the intelligent storytelling and layers found in many other independent Korean films by directors such as Hong Sang-soo, it’s unlikely to make its presence felt at other festivals. .
The film tells the story of a family who have more than their fair share of difficulties; from the unwell single-mum Gyeong-jin (Lee Eun-joo) who raises her son Jae-hyeon with the help of her elderly parents and siblings through to the misfortune and subsequent poor decisions made by her two brothers- the older In-cheol (Jung Eui-gap) and the younger In-ho (Jeon Kwang-jin - whom both work as chauffeurs (initially they are unaware that they both do the same job) taking clients home late at night after In-cheol is laid off while In-ho is struggling to stay afloat owing to his student loan.
Things only get worse for the family when In-ho is involved in the accidental death of an obnoxious and intoxicated client shortly after he drops him at his house and then drags In-cheol into the mess. Meanwhile Jae-hyeon’s father returns to the scene bringing further troubles and distress to the family.
Director Kim Dong-hyun attempts to adopt a minimalist but refined approach to his filmmaking, which at times pays off giving the film an earnest dimension, yet at the same time, some scenes especially those involving characters on the fringes of the narrative such as the detectives investigating the disappearance of the client, are poorly executed, but it’s also important to mention that the director was working with a small budget of just 100 million won (approx $94,000).
The script too could benefit from a number of revisions and more attention given to particular characters such as the younger brother struggling coming to terms with being at least partly responsible the death of his client that is only partially developed. Furthermore, the film’s overall narrative would have come across as more coherent and compelling had there been more of a focus on some of the issues it’s trying to address (financial hardship, single parenting) instead of trying to make it even harder for the family to combat its countless misfortunes.
The cast by and large are more than adequate, but it’s Jung Eui-gap who is given the most to do and succeeds in conveying the older brother who is forced to deal with a number of crises.
Although no local release date has been set, M-Line Distribution is set to release the film in the near future in a selected number of cinemas with the help of the Busan International Film Festival.
Production company: Kimdonghyun Film
International sales: M-Line Distribution, www.mline-distribution.com
Cinematography: Lee Jin-keun
Editor: Lee Do-hyun
Main cast: Jung Eui-gap, Park Se-jin, Jeon Kwang-jin, Lee Eun-joo