My Father

Bottom Line: Father-son weepy with some twists and subtle touches

Pusan International Film Festival (Asian Film Market)

BUSAN, South Korea -- The story about an orphan who returns to his home country to search for his biological father only to find he's on death row can only be fodder for tear-jerkers. "My Father" presses all the buttons of its target Korean audience by alluding to the historical legacy that created many orphans from the 1950s-'70s. However, the dignified performance of the older lead and a strong supporting cast combine with small touches that make the father-son interaction personal to lift the film out of its sentimental mire.

Outside of Korea, the subject may arouse some people's curiosity, but this is not really a festival film, except for some Asian-American festivals.

Eurasian hunk Daniel Henney (who looks a lot like Hong Kong star Daniel Wu) may be able to draw some boxoffice with his supermodel looks.

Gong Eun-chul was adopted by the Parkers when he was 5 and grew up in American. He joins the army and applies to be transferred to the U.S. base in Korea so he could look for his birth parents. After appearing on a TV program with other orphans like him, he gets a call from a priest, Moon, who located his father, Hwang Nam-chul. Their reunion takes place under the glaring flashlights of the media -- for Hwang is a convicted murderer on death row.

The film develops James and Hwang's relationship through the bars by showing their mutual connection through music, and James' efforts to immerse himself in Korean culture. But just when it looks like the film is heading for a straightforward ending, it surprises with new information about Hwang and James' mother. From this point on, the film defines their relationship into something much more emotionally complex.

The script is bogged down in parts by an overlong subplot about Hwang's efforts to buy a photo of James' mother from Min-ho, a fellow inmate who bullied him in the past. The attempt to win audience sympathy is so over-stretched with Hwang's excessive humiliation. There are also a good deal of stereotyping in the depiction of American GIs, an underhanded device to emphasize James' identification with his Korean fellow soldiers and his roots. The implicit nationalism in these scenes is only slightly alleviated by warm relationship between James and his kind adopted father.

As the film moves towards the inevitable finale, the director creates some heavily melodramatic dialogue and set pieces. But any thought that this plot is improbable will be dispelled by touching end credits footage of the person on whom the film is based, from his TV appearance to his reunion with his father in prison.

Lotte Entertainment/Cineline (Korea)/Barry Films

Director: Hwang Dong Hyuk
Screenwriters: Yoon Jin-ho, Hwang Dong-huk
Executive producer: Seok Myung-hong
Director of photography: Choi Hyun-gi
Music: Kim Hyun-Chul, Kang Ho-jung
Costume designer: Ham Hyun-ju
Editors: Ham Sung-won, Lee Sang-min
James Parker (Gong Eun-chul): Daniel Henney
Hwang Nam-chul: Kim Yong-chul
John Parker: Richard Riehle

Running time -- 120 minutes
No MPAA rating