Shuttlecock: Busan Review

A roadtrip that aims for relational insight but winds up simply aimless.

A teenaged boy that recently lost his parents in an accident hits the road in search of the half-sister that took off with an insurance payout in Shuttlecock, a road movie that goes, ironically, nowhere. Toggling between traditional indie single frame composition and now requisite hand held cinematography (often underexposed), Lee Yu-bin’s directorial debut has the nugget of an engaging family drama from a fresh perspective (kids, no parents) but it’s buried beneath unappealing characters and pedestrian aesthetics. 

Shuttlecock (for those unfamiliar with low-impact net sports, a shuttlecock is a birdie) begins with home movie-type images of a girl seemingly enjoying a spring evening with an unseen companion. That girl turns out to be Eun-joo (Kong Ye-ji), recently vanished with a pile of inheritance money from the death of her parents. The companion turns out to be Min-jae (Lee Ju-seung), her brother and a reprehensible brat who’s now looking for her. He heads south from Seoul one morning to find her, despite the fact he can barely drive, only to discover their little brother, Eun-ho (Kim Tae-yong), stowed away in the car. He’s not happy but has no choice but to take Eun-joo along. 

Too long by at least twenty minutes and lacking a central character that is either empathetic or sympathetic, writer-director Lee meanders from one moment to the next as Min-jae and Eun-ho wander from one town and dead end job to the next looking for Eun-joo. We’re subjected to roughly an hour of Min-jae threatening to abandon Eun-ho at the side of road (the result of one such incident is the little boy becoming the victim of a homophobic hate crime), and no amount of bonding through badminton with the younger brother is going to make Min-jae appealing. 

Adding insult to injury, he’s not a clearly drawn enough character to even understand his resistance to showing a touch of compassion. When the sibling reunion finally happens it’s more antagonism and bitterness: Eun-joo is pregnant, the money is gone, and like any good Korean melodrama, the specter of some kind of sexual impropriety has to rear its ugly head. Min-jae finally comes to grips with losing his sister, but it takes another hour to accept truly gaining a brother, which is the only shred of hopefulness Shuttlecock musters.

Korean Cinema Today

Cast: Lee Ju-seung, Kim Tae-yong, Kong Ye-ji

Director: Lee Yu-bin

107 minutes

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