- Hirokazu Kore-eda’
- Run Time
- 2 hours and 9 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s parable, I believe, would be much appreciated by the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. At its center is a tiny orphan baby cared for and desired by a number of Koreans who are on both sides of the law. A word search of “orphan” through the Bible will turn up quite a number of passages in which God is concerned for their welfare and enjoins his people to share his concern. In this film a Korean church and its pastor are shown as taking this concern literally.
One rainy night a young woman walks through a back door of a church to deposit her bundled up baby in front of the deposit box intended for unwanted babies. After she leaves, Dong-soo (Gang Dong Won), who works part-time at the church sees the baby and puts it into the box. Inside the church he sees the note left by the mother, claiming she will return for her child. Dong-soo has seen lots of such notes, but never a mother keeping the promise, so he throws the note away and erases the video on the surveillance camera. He intends with his older friend Sang-hyun (Song Kang Ho) to sell the child on the black market, although only if they can be assured that the infant will go to caring parents.
Watching all this are two female police detectives on stake-out duty, Su-jin (Doona Bae) and Lee (Lee Joo Young). They have learned of the illegal activities of the two and hope to be able to catch them in the act of trading the infant for cash.
This is one of those films where your feelings about characters can change as new information about them is revealed. Child traffickers are a contemptible lot, and yet Dong-soo and Sang-hyun, although in need of money, are as concerned for the welfare of the child as much as their profit—one potential sale they reject because they do not feel the potential parents will treat the baby right. (This is one of several times in which the two cops, eager to make the arrest, are frustrated when the deal goes south.)
Likewise, at first the cops seem unlikable when the veteran of the two hires a couple to pretend to make a deal. She denies that this is baiting the quarry, but what else can it be? Then, as the film develops, often turning in the opposite direction than we expect, we find that the police women also become concerned for the welfare of the little one.
True to her note the mother, So-young (Lee Ji Eun), does return to the church. She connects with Dong-soo and Sang-hyun, insisting that she participate in their dealings to insure that her little boy will find a good home. She also learns that there is a lot of money that will change hands. Their interaction is amusing—Sang-hyun, the oldest of the trio owns a dry cleaning store that does not provide enough income, and Dong-soo grew up in the orphanage run by the church. Soon one of the present orphans joins them, the cute and clever Hae-jin joins them, and the four set out on a road trip to connect with a potential set of parents.
One of the film’s “opposite directions” referred to above, is a murder that So-young has committed, and that the abusive man she had killed was the father of the infant. Now the man’s widow wants to obtain the child, so she has hired a thug to go after the group and bring the baby to her.
How all this is resolved adds up to a heart-felt and satisfying conclusion, though not at all the happy ending of a typical Hollywood comedy. Along the way there is discussion of the hopes and dreams of the children left at the church. No child wants to admit that they were abandoned. All are convinced that a parent will show up one day to claim them. (This poignant part took me back to my days when my wife and I were houseparents at a children’s home, where all the children were convinced that a parent would take them home one day!)
Although there are incidents that make us smile and laugh, others, such as the orphans’ insistence that they were not abandoned, the most moving scene is when So-young is in a hotel room with several orphans and she repeats a thanksgiving for each one that he/she has been born.
This is one of those little films that will brighten your day—and serve as evidence as to how thriving is the film industry in Korea.
This review will be in the February issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.