First ‘Midnight’ and then ‘More than Family’. I’ve been dedicating some time to watching more Korean movies (compared to just dramas) and ‘More than Family’ was one of the movies on that list for me. Starring Krystal Jung (Crazy Love and also a member of girl group f(x)), the movie follows Kim To-il (Krystal Jung), a pregnant college student who embarks on an adventure in search of her biological father. Through the highs and lows of the journey, she learns about the significance and life lessons regarding family, love, relationships, parenthood, and marriage. And safe to say, there were some good things to take away from this movie.
The first half of the movie was quite an adventure itself with the directing, filming, and camerawork not anywhere near my cup of tea. I found it to be a little too slow for my liking and the shots were quite static. A still camera focused on a few different angles and close-ups and that was pretty much what the visuals encompassed at first. I also had to get used to the set-up that the movie was building and introducing: all the moments before To-il embarked on her journey to find her biological father. It wasn’t the easiest, but I hung in there and stuck with it to see what the outcome would be.
Because the movie was about family, I at one point had my doubts as to whether To-il would eventually find her father. Her mom and stepdad’s reaction to her pregnancy news wasn’t the most positive so she stepped out to take a break and learn the truth about who her biological father was. Maybe the movie wanted me to learn about the importance of appreciating who you have in your life in the moment; maybe the movie wanted me to understand the significance of not living in the past and instead focusing on the present. To-il failed a few times to find her biological father so at one point I pondered over whether maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Would she be successful in accomplishing her goal and mission? Where was the movie going with her character arc and which direction was the movie going in?
To-il eventually did end up finding her biological father which proved to be the turning point of the movie for me – both in terms of the directing/visuals (it looked a lot more cinematic and movie-like so I was able to be a little bit more invested) but also the story. From the moment To-il found her biological father, I became fascinated and curious as to how the movie would finish considering that there was still about another hour left in the movie and I became pleasantly surprised with what the movie did for the rest of the time slot. We got a deeper look into why To-il’s biological father ran away and disappeared (he didn’t want to become a father at that age and felt as if he wasn’t ready for the responsibility yet), how To-il’s mother felt about her first husband (not the greatest or fondest), and also the strong competition between To-il’s stepfather and biological father (the biological father often recounted young memories of To-il’s childhood while the stepfather was much more familiar with the present To-il). So many details came together in the second half of the movie and it was quite an interesting movie to watch.
The thing about ‘More than Family’ is that it doesn’t try to be more than it is and it’s not going to be this huge sob story about family and parenthood and divorced parents. I appreciate that the movie is quite straight-forward and semi-bland. There’s a subtle charm that comes with how non-flashy this movie is. It makes it easy to pick up the emotions, feelings, and thoughts of the characters with every passing conversation. You could tell when To-il’s stepfather felt insecure about himself and how he hoped the past 15 years of his time with To-il meant something to her. You could tell how Mom felt about her divorce with To-il’s biological father and the reason why she decided to move forward with it despite the stigma and judgement that is associated with divorce. You could tell how To-il’s biological father understood the hurt and pain that he caused his family and how he knew when he should remove himself out of the situation and when he should get involved. The movie gave us emotional insight into each of our characters in a way where it was realistic without doing too much or saying it out loud. You could just understand the characters and where they were coming from so easily.
Some scenes that I loved the most in this movie was the moment when both of To-il’s fathers acknowledged each other’s roles in To-il’s life. She has two dads and that’s something that one can’t deny. The most interesting part about it too was the fact that To-il doesn’t necessarily have the strongest relationship with either of her dads. She didn’t even know who her biological father was for most of her life while her relationship with her stepfather was rocky. In the end, the entire family acknowledged that To-il had two fathers in her life – none of whom she considers more of a father than the other.
The other scene in the movie that stood out to me was To-il’s reaction upon discovering her biological father. It actually made me a bit emotional because of how realistic and raw it was. You witness To-il visit her school where she assumes her father’s workplace is and she encounters a few elderly men who she assumes is her father. But none of her attempts are successful until the one try is and she can’t help but just feel anger and resentment for what he did to her. He was absent in her life for so long and she missed having her father in her life when she was a young child. She had no idea as to what happened and one day all she knew was that she was supposed to call her mother’s boyfriend as ‘dad.’ So the reunion between To-il and To-il’s biological father broke my heart in that To-il probably had all these thoughts in her head of what to say in that exact moment, but when the moment arrived, she couldn’t say anything. She had no calm or nice words. She was upset and angry and frustrated and she lashed out at her father. That moment got to me and I credit the movie for not romanticizing or blowing up the reunion scene more than it needed to be. The reunion was absolutely crucial in order to advance to the second half of the movie and it executed the moment just right.
As To-il returns to her hometown to find her biological father, she travels down memory lane and is reminded of certain memories related to her mom and dad in the smallest things. It was an interesting way for the movie to give us viewers insight into what To-il’s childhood looked like and what it meant to her decades later. But perhaps the highlight of this movie was in the second half when To-il’s family and her fiancee’s family were all together in the same location. To-il’s fiancee, Ho-hun, had just disappeared for two days and it made To-il second guess her marriage with him. Signs of intergenerational trauma that she faced in her life appeared and she was afraid that her child would experience the same thing she did when she was a young kid: an absent father. Does she want her child to experience something similar? Does she really want to go through with this decision to marry Ho-hun? Is Ho-hun, a high school student, prepared for the challenges and responsibilities that comes with being a parent and raising a child?
Though Ho-hun himself expressed his commitment and dedication to loving To-il and helping raise their kid, the movie also provided you with a follow-up response that made you consider the what if: To-il would also be fine with raising her child alone if it ever came down to that. She saw her mother do it and it made her realize along the way that they’re not a broken family. They’re not perfect by any means, but no family is perfect. Sometimes, some things happen in life that you’re not prepared for and you go through the experiences and learn from it. You come out of those situations stronger and better and you move forward with your life. So though To-il is afraid of the uncertainty that this next chapter in her life has to offer, she’s also relieved at the thought that she’s seen and have lived through it before. She will come out of it just fine. She’s survived many times.
‘More than Family’ is directed and written to be like an indie movie with a cast full of actors who I wasn’t the most familiar with (with the exception of Krystal, of course, and then the stepdad played by Choi Duk-moon who was also in ‘Vincenzo‘ haha). However, I have to say that everyone played their respective parts and roles so well and really sold their characters. The movie was so complex and multi-dimensional with all the complicated relationships and character dynamics, but the movie made it so easy to follow along and understand where each of the characters were coming from. I especially have to give Krystal her flowers as the main character of the movie. I’ve been a fan of Krystal’s since her debut days in f(x) and I’ve watched some of her dramas (Search or The Player just to name a few), but she was so good in this movie. Like so so good and I like how simple and relatable she came off as. I never felt as if she overdid her acting or was doing too much and maybe a part of that was due to the level of difficulty her character required, but it was also due in part to her performance. Krystal was a good actor in this movie but she also portrayed To-il in a way where it was so effortless and charming. Great job to Krystal who was awesome in this movie about family, life, and parenthood.
To sum it all up, in the final scene of the movie, To-il prepares to walk down the aisle on her wedding day. And instead of choosing either her stepfather or biological dad to walk down the aisle with her, she chose someone who she knew would always remain a constant in her life: her mother. Relationships may come and go and marriages may not always work out, but a parent’s love for their child will remain forever. To-il and her family may be dysfunctional as many families are and they are not perfect, but there were so many layers and context to her family that made her realize something along the way: they’re not just a family. They’re more than family.