'Another Child' ('Miseongnyeon'): Film Review

Another Child - Publicity still 1-H 2019
Courtesy HIFF 2019
Quietly affecting.

Veteran South Korean actor Kim Yoon-seok’s directing debut examines the fallout from a married man’s messy affair and its impact on his family.

Growing up too fast can be fraught with complicated family dynamics and frequent emotional distress, as the teenage girl at the center of South Korean drama Another Child unhappily learns. Veteran actor Kim Yoon-seok’s conscientiously crafted directing debut delineates the limited choices facing several women from different generations, all devastated in one way or another by the recklessness of one selfish man. Further festival dates could help provide Kim with enough exposure to gain a toehold among an emerging cohort of Korean filmmakers enjoying increasing international visibility.

Joo-ri (Kim Hye-Jun) is the only child of emotionally absent father Dae-won (Kim Yoon-seok) and helicopter mom Young-joo (Yum Jung-ah), who’s intensely focused on furthering her daughter’s education and social standing. Although a good student, Joo-ri has difficulty making friends at her all-girls high school, where petty rivalries dominate the social order. For many teens, such outsider status might be cause for ongoing distress, but Joo-ri’s problems extend well beyond teenage drama after she discovers her dad’s affair with Mi-hee (Kim So-jin), the mother of a classmate who owns a roast duckling restaurant that he frequents for business meetings.

Kim’s succinct setup, which begins with Joo-ri spying on her dad as he visits his lover at her restaurant, establishes the girl’s isolation and her powerlessness to either heal her parents’ ruptured relationship or to accept her father’s transgression. Unable to endure a mounting sense of rage, she accosts Mi-hee’s daughter Yoon-ah (Park Se-jin), a moody and unpopular girl even more marginalized than she is, who responds by contacting Joo-ri’s mom to reveal that Mi-hee is more than six months pregnant with Dae-won’s child. 

The alarming news forces Joo-ri to confront her mother, who initially refuses to accept her husband’s infidelity and then confronts Mi-hee, resulting in an altercation that sends her to the hospital and precipitates a premature delivery. With the baby clinging to life in an ICU incubator, Yoon-ah and Joo-ri arrive at a cessation of hostilities, focusing instead on offering whatever support they can for the child’s recovery, since their parents have essentially abandoned the infant. Yoon-ah’s mom lies despondent in her hospital bed, ignoring the baby, while Joo-ri’s dad flees town in panic, unable to face either his wife or his lover, and especially not his daughter.

Kim’s rather grim view of adolescent struggle takes a very specific situation and enlarges its significance to question preconceptions about responsibility and family. As Joo-ri gradually repudiates her parents deafening silence and hypocrisy, she begins identifying more closely with rebellious Yoon-ah and their sickly little brother. In her mind, the three constitute a familial subunit based on their mutual suffering and the girls’ distrust for parental authority. Drawing closer together, Joo-ri and Yoon-ah assert their independence regardless of the consequences, to the point that Joo-ri tells her hopelessly shame-faced father, “I don’t want to be your daughter anymore.”

Abandoning their parents to their misery, the teens recognize that the adults are clearly so self-absorbed that they can barely provide adequate emotional support for the kids they already have, much less care for another child. Torn between enduring the humiliation of her husband’s behavior and her uncomfortable ambivalence toward his lover, Young-joo remains emotionally paralyzed, unable to either comfort Joo-ri or to process her spouse’s betrayal.

There’s barely any contemporary context to the narrative besides the girls’ cellphones, frequently wielded as weapons: The setting could be two weeks or half a decade ago. Kim also dispenses with any observations on the significant class differences that separate both the girls and the lovers. Mi-hee and her daughter are both rather crass, indifferent types who speak what’s on their minds, which puts off some people, but enables them to establish a degree of independence that’s completely off-limits to Joo-ri and her mother, both unhappily restrained by patriarchal cultural norms.

Tellingly though, Dae-won barely turns up long enough to endure the ire of the women surrounding him, avoiding his wife, daughter and girlfriend at any cost. Kim plays the character as a cowardly whiner, constantly making excuses and selfishly assuming he’s entitled to forgiveness despite his betrayals. Kim Hye-Jun as Joo-ri goes through successive stages of disbelief, denial and rebellion, ultimately refusing to accept her father’s authority or conform to social expectations of obedient acquiescence. In this regard, she takes her cue from Park’s Yoon-ah, who has no use for polite society or overbearing adults, remaining determined to forge her own way in the world regardless of the disapproval of her peers or elders.

Although the moral situations facing his characters may be complex, Kim gives them a simple choice: Do the right thing or accept the shame of inaction. Ironically, only the teens can adequately assess their predicament and devise a potential solution, leaving the adults to contemplate the consequences of their failures.

Production companies: Showbox, Redpeter Films
Cast: Kim Hye-jun,
Park Se-jin, Kim Yoon-seok, Yeom Jung-ah, Kim So-jin
Director: Kim Yoon-seok
Screenwriters: Lee Bo-ram, Kim Yoon-seok
Producer: Lee Seung-bok
Director of photography: Hwang Ki 
Production designer: Bang Gil-sung
Editor: Kim Sun-min
Music: Park Seong-do
Venue: Hawaii International Film Festival (Spotlight on Korea)

96 minutes