Director: Lee Jong-eon
Cast: Sul Kyung-gu, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Bo-min-I, Yoon Chan-young, Kim Soo-jin-IV, Lee Bong-ryeon
Runtime: 2 hrs
Released By: Clover Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 16 May 2019
Synopsis: Inspired by the 2014 sinking of the MV Sewol ferry, director Lee Jong-eon uses the tragedy as the backdrop to tell the story of a family coping with the loss of their son in his debut film BIRTHDAY.
Birthday is inspired by the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster (which killed 304 people on board, mostly involving the students from a local secondary school) in South Korea. It follows the story revolving a Korean family who have lost their eldest son in the disaster. They learn to cope with the loss and grief, together with their friends and support group.
Knowing what motivated the story of the movie would already guarantee a sob movie. With the combined prowess of Sol Kyung-Gu and Jeon Do-Yeon, you’ll definitely need some tissues for this melodramatic movie. Jeon Do Yeon plays the role of the mother, who mostly handles the household alone while the husband works overseas. Sol Kyung-Gu plays the role of the father, who is seemingly absent, even when the disaster happened. Amongst K-movie fans, this was a highly anticipated movie just for the casting alone. As expected of any award winning acting professionals, their acting didn’t disappoint.
Effectively, the narrative of the story is about how everyone goes through grief. From the closest family, to friends, to the ones who were there and witnessed the disaster unfolding before their eyes and survived, to fellow families who are also dealing with their own loss; it follows the emotional journey that each of them go through. It can get quite heartbreaking towards the end, in particular when the focus was on the daughter of the family - on how a young person cope with possibly the first loss of a family member.
Sol Kyung-Gu and Jeon Do-Yeon both nailed their roles. Be it Sol Kyung-Gu’s passport scene or Jeong Do-Yeon’s scene in her son’s bedroom, both were equally emoting and emotional (there was lots of sobbing in the cinema), which was pertinent for a melodramatic drama like this. The way they layered their emotions was also testament to their veteran acting.
While most of the story flowed well, it could feel a little laborious and slow, especially during the earlier part of the story where the background of the story was set up. But it was still relatively easy to follow, even when different characters were introduced.
As already suggested by the title of the movie, it concludes with the celebration of the victim’s birthday. While it’s hard, everyone learns to live with the ones they have lost, going through stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Everybody grieves differently, and that’s okay. Life is dynamic, so it will not be a linear journey after all. The movie ends off with a positive note, which is a fitting tribute to all who have lost their sons, daughters, friends, siblings, during this tragedy.
(They’re moving forward, but maybe they’ll not move on)
More about grief: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=669879150139006
Review by Tho Shu Ling