We follow a family of three who has lost their oldest son in a tragic ferry accident. His father has just returned to South Korea from Vietnam, where he worked. Now, a support group is trying to celebrate their son’s birthday, but the mother is not playing along as she is still in shock and mourning.
This is a powerful movie that will make hard men cry. The movie is loosely based on a true event that happened in South Korea in 2014 when a ferry sank and over 300 passengers died. There were around 470 people aboard the ferry, and around 250 students died. This should never have happened at all, and if you read about the case, it will make you angry.
The movie focuses on the grieving process and the small family consisting of two adults and their young daughter. The father worked in Vietnam, and it’s been a long time since he last saw his son. So when he finally comes home, he comes back to a home in disarray, and his wife hates him.
I’ve always wanted to see the two best actors in South Korea in the same movie. And finally, I got my dream come true.
Sol Kyung-gu and Jeon Do-yeon always deliver the goods. Especially Sol Kyung-gu is and has always been the best actor in South Korea. One expects a lot of crying in a heavy drama movie like Birthday, and it helps to have actors like these two who rarely overact. These two actors are so good at playing broken characters that have trapped emotions inside of them. You sit there and wait for an unpleasant outbreak when they become stressed or angry. It’s like following two volcanoes that will soon erupt.
The last half hour is emotionally brutal if you still have a heart that beats. I’m a hard person, but the birthday celebration was emotionally tough. I didn’t feel the cheap melodrama and terrible overacting that we often experience in South Korean movies. The birthday celebration was down to earth and sore. Tears will start filling up your eyes and you will get an enormous lump down in your throat if you are a normal human being.
The movie could have spent more time on the father and what happened in Vietnam. During a job interview, we get a quick explanation of why he got stuck there. And I never felt a close bond between him and his daughter. He has hardly been there when she grew up, and you notice that when they are together.
Some will surely find Birthday tedious. This is a movie for mature people who know a little about life and who know how unfair life can be. It could remind me a bit of Secret Sunshine, where Jeon Do-yeon also had the leading role. Both movies torment the character she plays. And she’s so good at being tormented.