Tragedy, nostalgia, suffering mom, etc.If you don’t get a sense of what “My Brother” (Uri Hyeong) is going to be about just from the title, chances are it will be hard to make sense of it even after you’ve seen it.
A nostalgic tale of two brothers growing up in the port city of Busan, “My Brother” attempts to get somewhat beyond its title’s simplicity by emphasizing aspects of brotherhood that were supposedly lost with the modernization of Korea. But the story itself does little more than romanticize macho fantasy, blending tragedy and nostalgia; it repeats techniques and story elements that have been used before in Korean films, recently in “Friend” and “Once Upon a Time in School.”
“My Brother” begins right after the death of Sung-hyun (played by Shin Ha-gyun), the older brother of a rowdy, handsome young man, Jong-hyun (played by Won Bin). Jong-hyun visits a studio to pick up some photos his brother took just before he died. He stands there waiting. The next scene goes back to the siblings’ childhood, with narration by Jong-hyun.
“My Brother” is the story of two brothers who choose different paths in life. After his mother loses all her money in a theft, Jong-hyun goes to work for a gangster to pay back the family debts; Sung-hyun enters a prestigious medical school in Seoul. The tragedy continues when Sung-hyun ― who came home to visit their mother on weekends ― gets killed by the son of someone Jong-hyun threatened in order to extort money for his boss.
The film is ambiguous about its time period; it only hints that it’s set in the late ’70s by way of the cars, the style of the school uniforms and the way the girls behave (though in one scene a character on a bus reads a TOIEC English textbook, which was introduced much later).
By now, there almost seems to be a formula for films about growing up in the ’70s in Korea. Many take place in boys’ schools, with narration by one of the characters. The roles are laid out clearly in many of these films: there are aggressive boys, a sacrificing mother, a bullying teacher and a pretty girl unsure of what she wants.
“My Brother” draws on experiences that might stimulate a sense of nostalgia for people who went to school in the ’70s and ’80s ― a poetry reading, for instance, and the uniforms of the time. But that’s pretty much all it does.
In fact, some of the dialogue is so cliched that it’s hard to figure out whether it’s meant to be a joke. In one scene, Sung-hyun asks his little brother a favor after a big fight, saying, “Just for once, call me hyeong,” an honorific for “older brother” that he never used.
Considering the way the film relies on melodramatic, boyish fantasy, viewers might think they’re watching a reincarnation of “Friend,” the film about four Busan high school friends that attracted eight million viewers in 2001. But unlike “Friend,” “My Brother” is a reminder that tragedy and nostalgia don’t always mix.
My Brother (Uri Hyeong)
Drama / Korean
by Park Soo-mee
“My Brother” is being shown nightly with English subtitles at Cine Core in Jongno 3-ga, central Seoul (02-2285-2090). Screenings are at 8:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and at 6:15 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.