Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father
Both of my parent’s families are originally from North Korea and evacuated to the south at the onset of the Korean War. When I was little, my grandma told me a story about my dad as a baby.
“When we all had to run away to the south, we accidentally left your dad in North Korea. There were too many children to count. (My dad has 6 siblings.) Halfway down, we see this commie chasing us with a bawling baby, yelling at us to take the baby with us. Apparently, your dad had cried so much after the commies took over the house that the officer couldn’t take it anymore and told someone to return the baby to their parents.”
I was young and remember listening with wide eyes, unable to believe that my dad had survived such an ordeal. Many years later, I talked about this very tale with my mom, who had a big laugh when she heard the story. “Your grandma just made up a story so that you wouldn’t cry! But back then, it wasn’t out of the norm for parents to leave behind their kids and there were a lot of families who got separated during the war.”
And there was my first introduction to the Korean War and dark humor, from my lone surviving grandparent, now in her late 90s and still tough as nails.
Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father is a heartwarming dark comedy. Sure it made me snort out my sweet red bean bun with laughter and made my stomach sink to the floor with dread. But in the end, it’s a story of real people trying to live life to the full, while fighting for survival.
The characters are all full of faults but unashamed of it. Jung Bo Seok is fantastic as the selfish, heartless dad, Jo Jae Soo. He would easily sell off his family for some new drums and his own comfort. But it’s impossible to dislike Jae Soo, no matter how despicable his actions. He’s like the troublemaker son that you beat up but put to bed at the end of a night with a kiss on the cheek.
The true star of the series is Jo Kyung Sook, played by one of the best young actresses of our times, Shim Eun Kyung. She’s absolutely perfect as a hungry, feisty, and loving child. She starts off spending all of her money to feed her friend, believing that he will win them a bag full of rice. She’s the one who’s sent to find her deadbeat dad, coming up with an idea to earn some money for the family. And she’s the one who refuses to leave when Nam Shik is thrown into jail for being a communist. She’s hotheaded but loyal, even disappointment after disappointment from her dad. You want to protect her but know that she’s the one who’ll end up protecting you with her bravery and craftiness.
Besides making me feel all gooey inside, this drama made me laugh so hard. Dark humor is by far my favorite kind, but who doesn’t love a little toilet humor thrown in for good measure? Man Geun’s poop, money throwing antics, drugged out kids, Jae Soo’s death note, burning spells, town parade. Being able to laugh in the midst of struggle is a good human lesson for everyone.
Amidst all the anguish of the Korean War and the Jo family, one of the saddest things to see was the “last episode” flashing on screen. As a 4 part mini-series, it went by way too fast. One of the appeal when I started the series was the brevity but I was really, really sad to see it end.
It’s a rare feat to bring together layered characters, a quirky story, formidable acting, and beautiful directing, all with the ability to move the audience to laughter and tears with a single line or look. For that, Kyung Sook’s Father is easily the best drama of 2009.