Skeletons in the Closet



Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Commercial Korean cinema is usually peopled with glamorous, flawless faces and figures, but "Skeletons in the Closet" squeezes humor out of a decidedly downbeat and unattractive Korean family. Subtlety is not director Chung Yoonchul's cup of tea. Bursting at the seams with one-joke gags, silly skits and exaggerated acting and body language, the film is a laugh-a-minute exercise, though the jokes will be forgotten as soon as credits roll.

It was released in South Korea in late February, receiving modest boxoffice returns. Cartoonlike performances make the plot as self-explanatory as mime, so language won't be a barrier to foreign viewers. However, the very local humor and social mind-set will. This film is unlikely to travel to major festivals or get much sales interest abroad.

"Skeletons" might as well be called "Family Under the Influence," as the moon features prominently as a mysterious force that holds sway over all the characters' behavior, making them act as if they have PMT all the time. Yong-sun, the teenage daughter in the Shim family, is the narrator. Their eccentricities and unbecoming mannerisms are displayed to considerable comic effect. One of the funniest scenes include: a family photo session that turns out like the Korean version of the painting "American Gothic," and older brother's deja vu visions of being a king in his past life.

On the one hand, the Shims' personalities and obsessions are laid open, warts and all. On the other hand, the film suggests that, like the dark side of the moon, everybody has secrets. The biggest one concerns Teacher Shim, the pater familias who cannot satisfy mom in bed. One day, he rescues a sick high school student and ends up in a love hotel with her. The episode is filmed by hidden webcam and broadcast on the Internet. He denies have done anything, but the truth is the film's central mystery. Mom also nurses a secret -- her fantasies about a karaoke waiter who introduces her to a world of aromatic beans. Yong-sun is in love with her film course teacher, but he, too, has a shady past to reveal.

The film would have been mildly thought-provoking if it had ended at about the 100-minute mark, where the characters come to realize that you can never fully know a person, even your closest kin. However, it drags on for too long, culminating in a huge public brawl that is noisy, badly directed and brings everything down to a pedestrian level.

"Skeletons" may be a zany and endearing portrayal of a dysfunctional family, but lacks the depth to reflect current family values in Korea.

CJ Entertainment/Musai Films
Director-screenwriter: Chung Yoonchul
Written by and based on a work by: Yoo Gab-yeol
Producer: Kim Yoon-ho
Director of photography: Choi Yoon-man
Production designer: Baek Kyung-in
Music: Ji Park
Editor: Ham Sung-won
Chun Ho-jin
Moon Hee-kyung
Kim Hye-soo; Yoo Ah-in

Running time -- 117 minutes
No MPAA rating