Movie Review: Pawn (담보)

Some subjects seem to carry well into other cultures and strangely, kidnapping might just be one of them. A new South Korean film deals with that subject in a humorous and heartwarming manner that not just Koreans are finding funny and touching.

In PAWN, Seung-yi (Ha Ji-won/하지원) is a young woman who is a highly talented, simultaneous Chinese translator for the Ministry of Trade in South Korea. After she receives a phone call that someone she’s been searching for over the past ten years may have finally turned up, it puts her on a path to recall her childhood. Flashback to 1993 and Doo-seok (Sung Dong-il/성동일) and Jong-bae (Kim Hee-won/김희원) are a pair of hapless debt collectors in Incheon. When one of their debtors, Myung-ja (Kim Yun-jin/김윤진), a illegal Korean Chinese immigrant, can’t pay her debt, Doo-seok decides to take her daughter, nine-year-old Seung-yi (Park So-Yi/박소이), as a pawn. Doo-Seok doesn’t count on two things though: First, that Myung-ja would get deported before she can repay the debt and second, that Seung-yi would be such an easygoing hostage. As a result, he and Jong-bae end up raising the little girl on their own.

Although little Seung-yi is as cute as a button, there is no way you can properly spin this film as a heartwarming family comedy. HE KIDNAPPED HER! AND SHE HAS STOCKHOLM SYNDROME! What makes the plot even more ridiculous is that Myung-ja even shows up a few years later, sees the child with her captor, and decides that the kid is better off with him than with her. Now I don’t know the first thing about South Korean immigration laws but wouldn’t Seung-yi be an anchor baby? As we learn later on in the story, her father is South Korean and, no, Doo-seok makes no effort to seek him out until Seung-yi has grown up. With all this going on, director Kang Dae-gyu/강대규 and screenwriter Park Ji-wan expect us to accept that Doo-seok is really a good guy at heart. Um, no, he’s a kidnapper. And then there’s little Seung-yi’s age. We’re told multiple times that she’s nine years old but this little actress still has all her baby teeth. There is no way that she was more than seven when they were filming! She looks about five.

But what do I know? The film hit the Number 1 spot at the South Korean box office on September 30th and it holds an approval rating of 9.17 (out of 10) with audiences there. Even my audience was laughing throughout.

PAWN opened yesterday (November 19th) in cinemas in Hong Kong. I thought it was horribly tone deaf but you might disagree.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, November 20th, 8:30 am HK time!

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