Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, is one of the most important holidays in Korea, where extended families gather to spend time together and worship ancestors. Traditionally, this includes preparing offerings and visiting ancestral tombs. However, nowadays more families choose to minimize lengthy food preparations and tedious worship services and instead spend their precious holiday as quality time together. Going to the movie theater as a family has become a popular Chuseok activity. And as more and more families head to the movies in this period, film distributors annually rush to release movies targeted specifically at the Chuseok family crowd. With its family-friendly nature, comedy is a popular genre for film distributors to release. This year, two comedy Chuseok movies — Cheer Up, Mr. Lee and The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos — were released on September 11.
Cheer Up, Mr. Lee is a typical fun and touching Korean film. The movie illustrates how Cheol-soo (Cha Seung-Won), who suffers from a mental disability, and Saet-byeol (Um Chae-Young), his estranged daughter suffering from leukemia, learn what it is to be a true family. This theme sounds perfect for Chuseok, except that “being perfect for Chuseok” was clearly the main purpose. The movie excessively employs melodramatic and emotional elements to the point where it is shoving emotions into people, instead of naturally leading the audience to feel them. It is as if the movie is asking, “How can you not cry with all of this?” The expected demand for movies during Chuseok seems to lead the filmmakers to focus more on impressing the audience than creating a strong plot. Moreover, the movie is unsuccessful as a comedy. Children suffering from leukemia or Cheol-soo suffering from mental illness are utilized as a source of laughter, and this inconsideration for those actually dealing with these challenges was disturbing to watch. Cheer Up, Mr. Lee failed to be either fun or touching, and the public seemed to notice it, too. During the four days of Chuseok, the movie attracted the lowest numbers.
While Cheer Up, Mr. Lee aimed to be funny and touching, The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos is a crime action-comedy movie. The four main characters, who are notorious criminals, form a “Special Crime Investigation Team” to eradicate a gang that attacked a police bus to help prisoners escape. The movie gained attention for being an adaptation of the TV show The Bad Guys that was aired on OCN last year. The all-time favorite action movie actor, Ma Dong-Seok, also contributed to the high public expectations for the movie. However, when the film was released, many expressed disappointment. After leaving the movie theatre, the only memorable scenes were the numerous violent and unrealistic fighting sequences. The plot development is weak and the action scenes are exaggerated, designed only to satisfy the wants of the audience for a satisfying “happy ending.” To uphold the cliché theme of “reward the good and punish the wicked,” the director chose to overlook the realistic impossibility for four people to beat up an entire group of gangsters and yakuza, which made the plot even less convincing. Still, this film is tolerable to watch to kill time. It successfully engages the audience with occasional comedy, and the action scenes, though repetitive, are admittedly exciting to watch. Understandably, this movie attracted the largest audience during the Chuseok weekend.
In general, film distributors only focus on attracting the family crowd during the holiday, hooking them with either an overly syrupy story or exaggerated action scenes, rather than creating a thought-provoking and meaningful movie. Though both movies are okay for casual viewing, I would much rather choose to watch something else.