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ADULTHOOD (2017) review

September 10, 2018

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written by: Kim In-seon and Park Geun-buem
directed by:  Kim In-seon
rated: not rated 
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: September 12, 2018 (AMC River East 21, Chicago, IL – opening night film for the 7th Season of Asian Pop-up Cinema)

 

You could describe “Adulthood” as a coming-of-age tale, one that revolves around two characters, a teenage girl and her uncle and based on that and the title you’d probably assume that the typical tropes of the genre apply toward the girl, but you’d be incorrect.  In director Kim In-seon’s feature-length debut, the ‘growing up’ you’d expect from the genre pertains to both characters actually, two estranged relatives who develop a relationship out of bad decisions and necessity. The result is an endearing, often warm and humorous look at how maturity and responsibility at any age can be viewed, from the lens of certain unexpected life situations.  

When we meet fourteen-year-old Kyung-un (Lee Jae-in), she is coming to terms with the death of her ill father (Choi Duk-moon), whom she was living with in South Korea after her mother left when she was very young. Alone and left to mourn at his funeral, the girl is surprised to see an emotionally distraught, handsome man show up, claiming to be Jae-min (Um Tae-Goo), her uncle and father’s younger brother, someone she does not recall ever meeting. He claims he is there to offer support to Kyung-un and that everything will be fine, but when he starts to ask about any inheritance or insurance money that his brother left her we start to get just as suspicious as she does. 

 

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While he definitely is Kyung-un’s uncle and not some stranger looking to capitalize on the grief of some young girl, it becomes clear that Jae-min up to something. It doesn’t take long for Kyung-un to figure out that her uncle is a charming opportunist, a scam artist who’s gotten by just fine by taking advantage of older ladies and their money. He may be more emotionally immature than Kyung-un, but he makes up for it in street smarts, which is why he’s able to con her out of her father’s insurance money when he signs up to becomes her legal guardian. Kyung-un doesn’t take this revelation lightly, but can’t help but agree assist Jae-min in his next con job, which is to focus on Jae-min (Seo Jeong-yeon) a lonely single pharmacist in the area, in order to get her money back. 

Reluctantly at first, the plucky niece finds herself posing as Jae-min’s daughter, in order to win over Jae-min’s trust. The longer they play off each other and build off their lies, the deeper they get into a life that was never theirs, painting a convincing charade for their target and everyone else they meet. Yet in the process, the wind up finding out some truths about themselves and each other. They may pull off their scheme effectively, but there are  inevitable hiccups along the way, some that chip away at the coat of paint they’ve used to convince everyone they are who they’re not and unexpected decisions must be made by both niece and uncle.

 

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Probably the most interesting thing about “Adulthood” is where these two family members are at in life and how they choose to navigate their lives. Obviously, what becomes the draw is the fact that this niece and uncle are such opposites. Due to what she’s experienced, Kyung-un is mature for her age, whereas Jae-min comes across as an immature mess. Yet since they’re both at different spectrums (whether they’re aware of it or not), they wind up being inadvertently good for each other. Kyung-un can help her uncle stay focused, while Jae-min’s can rub off on his niece and help her loosen up a bit.  Both characters serve to remind us why people in our lives, maybe even family members, put up false pretenses that they start to believe, preventing their true selves from getting the acceptance, love and support they truly need. 

“Adulthood” relies on the chemistry between the two leads, and Lee Jae-in and Um Tae-Goo are great together. They’re playing characters who could’ve easily been stereotypical roles – and while at times their behavior is predictable, the actors bring a great deal of warmth, vulnerability and humanity to their parts that accentuate the tone that Kim In-seon (who co-wrote the screenplay with Park Geun-buem) brings to the story. That tone is a deftly handled balance of drama and comedy throughout, with some serious moments of grief and loss accompanied by light humor and familial bonding, elements that you’d think just wouldn’t work well together, but Kim In-seon and her cast make it all flow just right.

On the outside, the overall story and the two main characters feel predictable and superficial, but “Adulthood” winds up being anything but that. It’s a potent and poignant story that respects individuality as much as it does family unity. The film serves to remind us how important it is to realize how valuable we are to other family members and what role we can play in enriching their lives, and in turn, our own.

 

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RATING: ***

 

“Adulthood” receives its North American premiere as the opening night film for the seventh season of Asian Pop-up Cinema at AMC River East 21 here in Chicago, which runs from September 12th thru November 14th. Director Kim In-seon and actress Lee Jae-in will be in attendance for the opening night screening on September 12th, for an introduction and Q&A. Tickets are still available at the official website.

 

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