So far I've seen four Korean films from 2000. Two of them have been gloves-off black comedies, with more "black" than "comedy" and no real interest in being likeable. Maybe that's coincidence, but whoah. Does history tell us anything? Well, even leaving aside the small matter of communist North Korea, South Korea only got rid of its last military dictatorship in 1987. That's thirteen years before this film came out. You could say that's a lot to be dark about.
I should be talking about the film, though. It's more entertaining than Barking Dogs Never Bite
but with even fewer sympathetic characters. That would be "none". What it has instead is a stronger plot. Our, um, heroes are a family of four with no visible means of income who've just become bankrupt again. The children look about twenty, but they're no use either. Fortunately the father manages to get himself hospitalised by a truck while he's drunk and pissing on it, which may not look like good news but eventually becomes so when the family realise that he had private insurance.
You can get a lot of money from injuries. The family decide they've stumbled upon a goldmine and start getting business-like about it. This escalates until... well, you can imagine what the most lucrative injury of all might be.
This is a simple idea, but what makes it entertaining is the fact that it never occurs to them to go the extra mile in their insurance fraud. They're not faking anything. They're really injuring themselves and investigating beforehand how much they'd get from spinal damage, permanent loss of sight and so on. This leads to some inappropriate (and funny) reactions. Occasionally they'll have a moment of humanity and briefly have problems with volunteering to go first for mutilation or taking a meat cleaver to someone's fingers, but this is rare. Basically they're scum. They're swindling massive sums out of insurance companies in order to make themselves rich. The only difference is that they're paying a health price for it.
Significantly the film starts with a montage of someone stealing money from a beggar, a cop accepting a bribe and so on. It wants to show us that the world is horrible and that money turns us all into vultures. Then having established the (ahem) moral of its story, it starts illustrating it. No one here is nice. The insurance investigator is as bad as our protagonists, then later we meet someone who's capable of drunkenly using the family fridge as a toilet. This should have killed the movie for me. I don't tend to enjoy films in which I don't care about any of the characters. However in this case I found it possible to engage with the story and even find it funny (e.g. the phone call to the "cousin"), because what they're doing is so extreme and they're so shamelessly hell-bent on making the worst of it.
It doesn't hurt either that Jin-hie Park is cute. Hmmm. What other films is she in?
There's not a lot to discuss with this one, because it's driven so strongly and clearly by its concept. (That's a virtue, by the way.) You already know what kind of movie this is. It's not subtle. On the contrary, it's a story of scum in a scummy world going to ever-more extreme lengths of scumminess. It's a film of crocodile smiles. Someone gets knocked down in their own piss and it's not a gross-out gag, as it might have become in a hypothetical American remake, but merely another example of the universe's cruelty. However on the upside, at least our family are all friendly with each other. They're happy and enthusiastic together about their criminal goals and they don't go around backstabbing each other. If you can overlook their skew-whiff moral codes, they're pleasant people.
It's a good film. I laughed. The ending's only okay, mind you, giving me the impression that they stopped either too late or too early. I'm not saying what they chose was inappropriate, but instead that it could perhaps have been taken still further. Overall, the movie's a little uncomfortable, but entertaining.
"A little lightning won't kill you!"