Farewell, My Darling,” the 13th feature from veteran South Korean helmer Chul-Soo Park, is a satirical look at a rural Korean family’s preparations for the funeral of the family patriarch. The pic provides an interesting portrait of the clash between modern, urban values and old-fashioned, small-town morality in contemporary Korea, but Park, who wrote and directed the film, is less successful when attempting to pull off the comic scenes. All too often, the humor seems forced and the laughs are few and far between. Outside of its home territory, this examination of Korean funeral rites will likely be restricted to the festival circuit.
The old father (Sung Choi) expires while biking into town from the family’s rural home. Over the next hour, various family members begin returning to the homestead, including a TV and movie director (Park), clearly modeled on the filmmaker himself. All the arrangements for the funeral are shown in some detail , including a graphic depiction of the killing of a pig and the preparing of the body, and one old guy desperately tries, with varying degrees of success, to force everyone to follow the strict traditional mourning rules.
Light tone is maintained as Park sets up a series of comic episodes, such as the scene involving two competing politicians who come to pay their respects and end up in a fight. The humor takes a veer toward the goofy when three waitresses from the local cafe show up to offer a couple of last cups of coffee to the deceased.
Park has tried to craft an ambitious tableau that encompasses glimpses of a dozen characters from a host of different social backgrounds, but his attempt to create an Altman-esque ensemble piece ultimately falls flat because he never stops long enough to flesh out any of the characters. The script jumps from one family member to another at breakneck speed, which waters down the overall impact of the tale.
The scattershot approach also makes it hard for the actors to stand out in the crowd, with the only memorable performances delivered by Jung Sook Moon, as the dignified widow, and child actor Bong Kyu Kim, as the mysterious orphaned kid who causes as much trouble as possible.
Lensing captures the texture of rural village life in Korea, while Sung Ryong Byun’s striking score adds atmosphere with instrumentals that sound like Asian country-blues.