MY ANNOYING BROTHER (2016)
An escalade of tragedy flows through this waggish family drama between a recently released convict and his blind former athlete brother
The family unit – so integral to many Korean cinema – is stripped back to two warring brothers here, their parents long since deceased. Without other family members to referee their spats and console those most hurt, we are given a raw, unblemished look at how brothers interact.
The brotherly love is often an unspoken one. Kind words are rare, insults are common. But there always remains a muted understanding. Such connections are strained much further in My Annoying Brother, translated from the less playful Korean title of ‘Older Brother’.
Doo-young (Do Kyung-soo) is a national Judo athlete and Olympic hopeful. At an international event he damages his optic nerves and becomes blind. His estranged older brother Doo-shik (Jo Jung-suk – The Face Reader, Time Renegade) is in prison, but with their parents both having died from an accident year ago, he uses the situation to get paroled from prison.
Moving back in together, the pair have an instantly frosty relationship. Doo-young would rather struggle on without his brother’s help, while Doo-shik is largely spiteful and indifferent to his young sibling.
Despite their difficulty communicating, Doo-shik is unable to leave as caring for his brother is within his parole conditions, but then a creeping bond is slowly built between the pair.
There are useful supporting roles for Park Shin-hye who plays Doo-young, his former Judo coach, and Kang-hyun, a local who initially comes to Doo-shik's attention as an annoyance at a local shop.
There is not so much a smattering of tragedy and melodrama here, but more a truckload of heartache to consume matters. These elements are perhaps taken so far at times, detracting from other themes that may work better without them.
Most of these tear-jerking elements can be forgiven as there is plenty that the film gets right. Chiefly the chemistry between Doo-young and Doo-shik, which is both believable and one that guarantees audience commitment. It does a fine job of handling the sometimes prickly brotherly relationship, one that in this instance should be closer after the death of the brothers’ parents.
While the film rifts on the importance of family, it also ties in another vital cornerstone of Korean culture – food. While it begins as packet ramen with limited nutritional value, a Chinese banquet at home eventually brings the brothers closer together.
Billed as a comedy, and the poster certainly points in that direction too, this is more melancholy than merry. That is not to suggest there are not laughs here, but they are often spawned from the unlikely friendship between Doo-shik and Kang-hyun.
Polished and interesting enough to mostly carry its own weight, tear-jerkers are perhaps best played when the emotion is steadily baked into the story, rather than served buffet style as we witness in My Annoying Brother. But for those who prefer the all-you-can eat option, they will find plenty to devour here.