Film Review: 완득이 (Wan-deuk)

It always feels good watching a movie in Korean, the feeling of the perfect understanding. Understanding every bit of their conversations and narrations is a comfort. Even better if the movie is good. It was indeed a good movie. Disguised in a comedy film, <Wan-deuk> exposed important social issues.


Wan-deuk is a 16-year-old lone boy, filled with anger. He lives with a physically disabled father and a mentally disabled uncle in an area where its environment is very lagged behind. His mom’s whereabout has been unknown to him ever since. He seems no passion or interests in life. Maybe life is too harsh for a 16-year-old boy. What could be worse? There seems one more life obstacle for him, his teacher, Dong-ju, who lives across from Wan-Deuk and keeps bothering – or showing his concern to – his student. Wan-deuk even prays at church for the teacher’s disappearance from his life, asking God to take the teacher’s life.

One day, the teacher, Dong-ju, told Wan-deuk that his mother is a Filipino and still legally married to his father. It was a surprising news but Wan-deuk’s attitude is ‘so what?’ Now his family is a complete set of socially unfavoured people. He has no intention at all to find out further about his mother but the mother approaches him, opening up a thin mother-son relationship. In the meantime, the father, a club dancer, more of a clown, lost his job and was again thrown out to the unwelcoming world. The father, who’s mentally strong and does whatever it takes to support his family, made himself a seller who sells miscellaneous cheap goods at a countryside temporary market. In the meantime, Wan-deuk found an interest in kickboxing in which he also finds a talent. At first he can’t avoid releasing his anger through the sport, but he eventually learns self-control and his life seems getting better. So does the relationship with the mother. Wan-deuk, the son, and Dong-ju, the teacher, led the movie playing as comic characters – that is why the movie is masked as a comic one – while the father and the mother represent two social issues.

The father. Although the lives of Wan-Deuk and the people around him are less than average, their hearts are warm, just isolated from the rest of the world. The characters in the movie are all living below average. There is no social comparison between them, but the audience or the society differentiates them. The disabled father started dancing to get along with the people, which he believed dancing is the only way to do so with his body. When he lost his dancing job, he put a clown makeup and sold cheap goods at a market. He has been working hard throughout his life but his life doesn’t get better at all, most likely because of his physically disabled status. If one lives his best but the life doesn’t get better, isn’t his society liable for it? I am calling myself a 60% Korean and 40% American. Luckily, I have been living in this country where human rights are better protected than my mother country. I don’t blame Korea but just hope to see it developing in the right direction in terms of human rights, which would take a while as usually it comes after the economy is stable or rich enough to consider human rights.

The mother. Korea is a single-race country where the people are rather conservative and don’t favor interracial marriages. When she was coming to Korea, she might have had a dream of living a better life, which on the contrary turned out to be a terrible one. She wouldn’t have come if she knew it, I assume. She has been looked down and treated unfairly because she is a foreigner especially from an underdeveloped country. Let alone her miserable foreign life, I was sad because of two scenes. One was she replied “I’ve lived here long enough” when Wan-deuk complimented her fluent Korean (She did really speak well! No standout foreigner accent.). That’s exactly what I say when people tell me how well I speak English without a Korean accent. The other was when Wan-deuk’s father told Wan-deuk ‘Your mother had a decent education in her country. If she wasn’t from an underdeveloped country, she wouldn’t have been treated like that.’ Yes, I am a well-educated woman. I don’t think I’ve ever been looked down or any in my past years explicitly because of my race. But who knows implicitly? I was just sad as I related myself to the mother.

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