Scandal Makers -- Film Review


Bottom Line: This sassy family comedy is a huge crowd-pleaser.

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CANNES -- "Scandal Makers" sports the hippest grandfather on Korean screens -- a thirtysomething DJ whose charmed bachelor lifestyle is ruined by the appearance of a single mother who claims to be his daughter. This bubbly, good-natured comedy by newcomer Kang Hyoung-chul, gives such a delightful spin to the "rake reformed by parenthood" formula that it attracted a Hollywood remake offer.

Though small-budgeted and under-publicized, the sleeper outperformed Korea's most expensive production, "The Good, the Bad, the Weird," by selling more than 8 million tickets and enjoying a two-month theatrical triumph. With sparkling cast chemistry and pleasant music, this wholesome family entertainment for Asian markets also may reach hearts of Western audiences through ancillary.

Cha Tae-Hyun ("My Sassy Girl") spices up his role as a radio host basking in his own celebrity status with a degree of meanness which gives the film an ironic edge, and dilutes some of the slushy sweetness. That Hyun-su fathered a child in ninth grade is a rather far-fetched premise, but it is still an enormous treat to watch the dynamics play out between three generations, all full of eccentricity and self-possession.

The middle act, which details the comic clashes of taste and values between conservative country lass Jung-nam and vain, voluptuary Hyun-su, is directed with ease and a heady craziness. What clinches audience affection is the utterly disarming presence of child actor Wang Seok.

The highlight is when Jung-nam enters a singing contest run by Hyun-su's program. Although her song is nostalgic, tacky '90s K-pop, she belts it out with fiery gusto, sweeping the film to an emotional crest. This is paralleled by Hyun-su's improvisation of his own composition on a date. His unexpectedly gentle voice hints at a softer side, which makes his deepening parental instinct credible. This is capped by Ki-dung's prodigious piano performance, neatly proving that musical genes run in the family.

Inevitably, the increasing difficulty in hiding their relations leads to a climactic choice between personal ambitions and blood ties. Kang's treatment is conventional, with a predictable jab at unethical paparazzi behavior. These scenes abound with histrionics typical of Korean domestic melodrama. But the finale returns to the light touch of earlier acts and ends on a groovy musical note.

Reviewed at Udine Far East Film Festival
Festival de Cannes -- Market

Sales: M-Line Distribution, Toilet

Cast: Cha Tae-hyun, Park Bo-young, Wang Seok-hyun
Director-screenwriter: Kang Hyoung-chul
Producer: Ahn Byung-ki
Director of photography: Kim Jun-Yung
Art Director: Lee Yo-han
Music: Kim Jun-seok
Editor: Nam Na-yeong

No rating, 117 minutes