Han Jae-rim’s “The Show Must Go On” – 2007 NYAFF Review

Han Jae-rim’s new film “The Show Must Go On” is a wry and ultimately poignant take on the gangster-film genre. In-gu (Song Kang-ho) specializes in using not-so-gentle persuasion tactics to get property developers to sign their construction projects over to his gang. He performs his job with enthusiasm and gusto, but his life on the domestic end is not so successful. His wife Mi-ryung (Park Ji-young) and daughter Hee-soon are becoming increasingly agitated and embarrassed by his activities. Mi-ryung constantly hounds him to leave the gangster life, and Hee-soon is mortified when, at a parent-teacher conference, In-gu offers her teacher some cash and a strip club coupon, telling him to “take care of her.” In-gu does find his dream home and steps up his activities in order to afford the payments. However, his efforts embroil him in conflicts with both his own gang and rival ones, and serve to estrange him even more from his family. In-gu makes an effort to leave his lifestyle behind, but instead he sinks ever further in an inextricable mess.

Han Jae-rim’s previous film, “Rules of Dating,” twisted the romantic-film genre into something quite twisted and disturbing. “The Show Must Go On” engages in similar acts of genre deconstruction, in its relentless de-glamorization of the gangster movie. Absent are the cool visuals of such recent films as Kim Ji-woon’s “A Bittersweet Life” or the acrobatic action of “City of Violence” (also screening at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival). In its place are brutal, dirty, desperate fighting and conflicts, and the utter futility and endless cycle of violence. Song Kang-ho’s central performance is continually riveting and skillfully embodies his struggle to reconcile his love for his family and loyalty to his gang boss. The film’s tone begins as broadly comic, but gradually shifts to a more tragic and downbeat mode as In-gu’s desperation and entrapment increases.

“The Show Must Go On” will screen at the Subway Cinema New York Asian Film Festival on June 29 and again on July 2. For tickets, go to www.subwaycinema.com.