Inspired by a true story, "My Father'' tells the emotionally gripping tale of an adoptee who returns to Korea for the first time in 22 years to find his birth family--only to discover that his only surviving parent is a death row inmate.
/ Courtesy of Lotte Entertainment
By Lee Hyo-won
They say here that familial love flows downstream like a river, from parent to child. The depths of parental love for one's own child are universally deemed unconditional and immeasurable. While one cannot quantify love, love can also travel upstream, from child to parent, with great momentum.
``My Father,'' directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk and starring Daniel Henney and Kim Young-cheol, explores the multifaceted meaning of family, love, forgiveness and acceptance.
Inspired by a true story, the ``faction'' film (a combination of fact and fiction) traces the incredible journey of an adoptee searching for his birth family. Adopted by a loving American family at the age of five, the 27-year-old James Parker (Henney) joins the United States army and is stationed in Korea where he searches for his birth family. With the help of his KATUSA (Korean Augmentation Troops to the U.S. Army) roommate and buddy, Joseph (Kim In-kwon), James makes a television appearance and is able to locate traces of his past.
James finally finds his birth father Nam-cheol (Kim), the only surviving member of his biological family. But the highly anticipated reunion is far from touching, as it takes place in a local prison, under the chaotic flashes of cameras and reporters incessantly asking the bewildered young man to hug Nam-cheol and say ``I love you.'' The father is in his 10th year on death row for the murder of two people.
Despite all the odds, James learns to fully accept his father.
``Father'' is like a cup of coffee: The story is deeply rooted in the bitter-sweetness of reality, touching upon heavy, controversial issues from adoption -- Korea, while being a top global economy, is the fourth largest ``exporter of babies'' -- to local troubles with the U.S. army and the death penalty. Yet, the film possesses a deep, smooth aftertaste, filled with the aromatic moments of life as it fathoms the meaning of family and friendship.
The cinematography captures this dual nature, as a soft ray of sunlight fills stark, barren prison cells with warmth. Jo Geun-hyeon, art director of visually striking films like ``A Tale of Two Sisters'' (2003), transforms mundane spaces like the army base and squalid street corners into places resonating with life.
While the most gripping aspect of the film is the father-son love between James and Nam-cheol, the profound love in James' adopted family is equally touching. Families take on many forms, but love transcends all, blood-related or not. The strong, family-like friendship between James and Joseph is also heartfelt.
Henney, dubbed ``Korea's heartthrob'' with his chiseled, modern-day Prince Charming image molded through appearances in ``My Name is Kim Sam-soon'' (MBC, 2005) and ``Seducing Mr. Perfect'' (2005), has found his breakthrough role as an actor.
The model-turned-screec star gives a surprising performance as he delivers the complex emotional state of his character, through jerking tears, frustrated bursts of anger and awkward embraces with his father.
The contemptible yet sympathy-provoking Nam-cheol is brought to life by veteran actor Kim Young-cheol. The star of epic TV dramas like ``Taejo Wanggeon'' (KBS1, 2000) delivers, with much finesse, his first lead role on the big screen. The 54-year-old took off about 22 pounds and even had his teeth ground up to become a prisoner.
Noted in the international film circle through shorts, director Hwang Dong-hyuk makes his feature film debut. In addition to anticipating more three-dimensional roles from Henney, film buffs can expect more full-length movies from the up-and-coming director.