K-Movie Review: Inseparable Bros (2019)

I might as well just make this a new series or a weekly thing at this point because I’ve been putting in time and work into watching at least a Korean movie every few days. It all started with thriller ‘Midnight’, then family movie ‘More than Family’, and now comedy-drama film ‘Inseparable Bros.’ Safe to say, this won’t be the end of it as there are still a few more movies on my list that I’d like to watch. But with that, let’s dive in!

‘Inseparable Bros’ follows characters, Kang Se-ha (Shin Ha-kyun) and Park Dong-gu (Lee Kwang-soo) – two friends who aren’t blood-related but have a strong bond and connection with each other. They’ve been there for each other since they were young up until the present time, but the appearance of Dong-gu’s mother threatens to separate the two brothers from living together. ‘Inseparable Bros’ illustrates the beauty of brotherhood and friendships but also the importance of family and how sometimes blood isn’t always thicker than water.

Heading into this movie, I knew it was pretty popular when it first came out 3 years ago so I had some expectations for it. I had heard about it and was aware of how well-received it was in Korea so I was expecting something good or decent. Upon finishing the movie, I could see why this movie was so popular and well-liked by the public. I could see why so many people loved it as well as what the movie did for it to be as impactful as it was. Though I wasn’t a fan of everything that the movie did and had some conflicting thoughts of my own while watching it, I enjoyed this movie for the messages and lessons that it conveyed throughout the two hour run.

Mor than anything, this movie was about the strong bond and connection between Se-ha and Dong-gu. Se-ha has a physical disability while Dong-gu’s mental ability is that of a five-year old. As the movie illustrated in the beginning with the child actors, these two have known only each other for most of their lives. They were abandoned when they were younger and they found a home in each other. Though the movie does make some crucial points about the prejudice and poor treatment that people with disabilities face in society, the movie’s primary focus was on Se-ha and Dong-gu’s brotherhood. Though the movie does slap you in the face about the reality that people with disabilities encounter in the real world, the movie fed us more of Se-ha and Dong-gu’s deep friendship and how family is who you surround yourself with. The movie made it pretty clear from the beginning that it was going to center itself around the main characters instead of the premise or the writing and the movie did a wonderful job in executing that.

The movie slowed down a lot more once it transitioned to the adult characters with Shin Ha-kyun and Lee Kwang-soo so I can’t fault the movie for that. However, I have to admit that I really liked the child portion more with the younger versions of Se-ha and Dong-gu. I think the two child actors were just so in sync together and completely sold their characters and friendship in a way where you just didn’t want to see them grow up. I myself didn’t want young Se-ha and Dong-gu to grow up. And maybe I enjoyed it so much because the movie did a phenomenal job in setting everything up or because it was the charm of the two child actors. Needless to say, I was a lot more interested and invested in the movie when it focused on the younger versions of Se-ha and Dong-gu than when they grew up to be adults.

This movie was so interesting to me because I think it did what it needed to do in order to pull off a heart-warming and touching movie. We witnessed just how difficult and challenging Se-ha and Dong-gu’s lives were once they were away from each other. Dong-gu struggled to adjust to life with his mom and her restaurant business while Se-ha didn’t enjoy being in a new facility with a new caretaker who just wasn’t Dong-gu. It felt odd for Dong-gu to not be wheeling Se-ha around and it felt odd for Se-ha to have to instruct his caretaker to do things for him when usually those things just came naturally for Dong-gu. You could really see the two characters sort of long for each other once they were separated, but you could also see them fighting to hang in there because they knew this was their new unfortunate reality.

Another thing that the movie excelled at was its attention to details and connecting all the dots together in a way where everything came full circle. You learned in the beginning that adult Dong-gu loved to swim so he competed in a swimming competition at a specific swimming facility. We learn later on in the movie that the swimming pool was the location where his mother abandoned him when he was just a little kid and that explained as to why he never finished his laps in the swimming pool. Towards the end of the movie, Dong-gu participated in a competition at that swimming pool again where his mother then showed up which is how he was able to actually complete the lap in the pool.

But this time, not only did his mom show up but it was also the location where Dong-gu and Se-ha reunited with each other again after having been separated for a bit. It was in this moment that Dong-gu realized who he truly wanted to be with, who he considered his family, and where his rightful place in his life should be: with Se-ha. When they were younger, Dong-gu saved Se-ha’s life by jumping into the river to save him from drowning. All the swimming explains why Dong-gu was so good at swimming and how he was able to rescue his best friend from drowning. But what the movie also revealed at the end when it revisited this scene was how Se-ha actually attempted suicide. He was the one who pushed himself into the water and in the end it was Dong-gu who rescued his friend. So in that sense, you understand why Dong-gu means so much to Se-ha. Dong-gu was his savior and was someone who believed in him and wanted him alive. But in that sense, you also understand why Dong-gu rescued Se-ha out of the water. Se-ha also meant something to Dong-gu as well.

And it’s this ability to understand only each other when no one else does that explains why the two are inseparable. No one gets Se-ha like Dong-gu does and vice versa. And the most heart-warming aspect about it all is how selfless they are for each other. In the process of trying to gain custody over her son again, Dong-gu’s Mom assumed that Se-ha was just using Dong-gu to take care of him. But the thing is.. Dong-gu never saw it that way and Se-ha never felt that way about Dong-gu. Dong-gu never interpreted Se-ha’s actions as selfish. To Dong-gu, Se-ha is his best friend and Hyung (older brother). They’ve been best friends since they were young, they’ve been together since they were young, Dong-gu’s been helping Se-ha around since they were young. They go everywhere together because Dong-gu enjoys it and because this is his way of life. Dong-gu does these things out of the kindness of his heart and because it’s all he knows. He never once complained nor did it exhaust or frustrate him. That’s one of the things that I loved the most about their friendship. It was so selfless and effortless. Se-ha and Dong-gu built a life together and that life was threatened by Dong-gu’s mom. But what she didn’t understand was Dong-gu and Se-ha’s dynamic and the ways that they complete each other. To put it simply, Dong-gu and Se-ha are soulmates.

The title of the movie sort of gave away how the movie was going to conclude so it needed to impress on the execution part of things which I think it succeeded in. When Dong-gu’s mom appeared and she fought in court against Se-ha to gain custody over Dong-gu, I never doubted in my mind that the two brothers would reunite again. Even when Dong-gu moved away to live with his mother, I knew he was eventually going to return to be with Se-ha again. I knew that the two brothers were going to get a happy ending.

But with that being said, I also had such conflicting thoughts that was less about the story/premise itself and more on the casting. I hate that I even thought this or that I’m bringing this up because I really didn’t want to feel this way, but I have to admit that I couldn’t fully buy into the actors’ portrayals as their respective characters. And it also didn’t help that the movie started off with the child actors who were amazing in their respective roles so I had high expectations once the characters grew older.

This isn’t to discredit or dismiss the performances of Shin Ha-kyun, Lee Kwang-soo, or even Esom as all 3 are good actors who can put on strong performances. But what threw me off was just how much older Shin Ha-kyun looked in comparison to Lee Kwang-soo when I didn’t necessarily feel that age/appearance difference with the child actors. I also couldn’t warm up to Shin Ha-kyun’s portrayal of Se-ha who I felt he played a little too one-dimensional for my liking. Se-ha as a whole is pessimistic, stubborn, and cynical because he lost his mother at a very young age and then was abandoned not too long afterwards. He was viewed as a burden as a young child so I can see and understand why he behaved the way he did or why he viewed the world in a certain way.

But I didn’t get enough out of his character once he grew older and maybe that might have been because the story slowed down or maybe it was in part due to Shin Ha-kyun’s performance or maybe because the movie shifted its focus to Dong-gu’s character arc instead. Either way, although Shin Ha-kyun is a good actor himself, I also think Se-ha’s character could have been done a lot more justice and the movie failed to explore the potential in Se-ha’s character arc. I couldn’t feel anything from Se-ha’s character once he grew older and the emotional depth just wasn’t there for me.

I say all of this to say that although I had my own personal hitches and worries with the movie, the movie still did what it had to do which was pull at the heartstrings of viewers and grab their emotions. The movie accomplished this by highlighting Se-ha and Dong-gu’s special bond and also adding Mi-hyun (Esom) into the mix who treated the two brothers no different than she would anyone else. She cared about them, treated them with respect, and enjoyed being around them and it was obvious that she was just as important to the story overall. In the end, family is who you make of it and Se-ha, Dong-gu, and Mi-hyun’s relationship is a testament to that. Se-ha and Dong-gu may not be blood-related, but they are, no doubt, brothers for life.

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