Family is a recurrent theme in both Korean dramas and movies. The characters fight, slap, kick, and yell in each other’s face, but soon reconcile and make up over their difference in opinions and such. One of the things Korean shows can do effortlessly (at least by my standard) is to wring out tears from the family-themed stories, and I realized that there are a significant number of Korean movies about two brothers who reunite under certain circumstances involving a lady. Sounds familiar? Maybe you have watched one of these shows featured below.
우리는 형제입니다 (We Are Brothers)
2014 release, 102 minutes run
Tearjerker meter: 💧💧💧💧
Two brothers reunite after more than 30 years of being separated during their childhood: Sang-yeon (Jo Jin-woong) is a successful pastor residing in the US, while Ha-yeon (Kim Sung-kyun) is a shaman currently living in South Korea. They are meeting through a TV show reuniting long-lost family members, but ironically, their mother Seung-ja (late Kim Young-ae) went missing at the broadcasting station. The staff who watched over their mother and lost her, Yoon-jin (Yoon Jin-yi) embarks on a journey together with the brothers on their way to find their lost mother as they eventually find their way back to the past.
The premise is fun with the potential clash of beliefs between Sang-yeon and Ha-yeon, with their polar opposite appearances making people doubt whether they are really related or not. The running gag is when Ha-yeon continuously being mistaken as the older one due to his appearance, while Sang-yeon is just dressing neatly for his job. Personally, I feel that the strength of this movie lies in the reality behind overseas adoption that might end up as a happy ending for the child, but there are children who might have to suffer by themselves when things don’t turn up well for the adopted family. I am restraining myself from giving spoilers, but these two brothers are sure related based on their high-level trolling skills…
형 (My Annoying Brother, lit. “Brother”)
2016 release, 110 minutes run
Tearjerker meter: 💧💧💧
A promising Judo athlete Doo-young (Do Kyung-soo) meets unforeseen circumstances when he is injured during a competition, rendering him blind and unable to participate in the Olympics. Under the pretense of caring for his sick brother, conman Doo-shik (Jo Jung-suk) makes use of his waterworks and sympathy to gain his freedom through parole. Doo-shik barges into Doo-young’s life like a wrecking ball, slowly pulling Doo-young from the dark corners of his bedroom and continues to encourage the athlete into starting over again, with the help of Doo-young’s coach Soo-hyun (Park Shin-hye). As they bond over arguments and shared memories of their childhood, Doo-shik learns of a secret he must continue to keep from Doo-young in order to maintain his focus on the Paralympics…
The movie makes use of the lead actors very well, from Doo-shik’s non-stop talking to Doo-young’s glaring eyes. It is like watching two brothers who fight all the time, but they will work together when the situation calls for it. It is as normal as it can be: their homely house, the bathhouse trip, and the house party together with Soo-hyun and Doo-shik’s instant friend Doo-chang is a reminiscence of an ordinary family. The laugh factor is on par with the tearjerking parts of it, so it’s good to be ready with a bunch of tissues.
브라더 (The Bros/ Lit. “Brother”)
2017 release, 102 minutes run
Tearjerker meter: 💧💧💧💧💧
Two estranged brothers find their way back to their family home back in Andong, where the family is still keeping up with the traditions and pride themselves with the rigidity and strictness of the practice. Suk-bong (Ma Dong-seok) is the First Grandson who was groomed to be the family’s pillar, while Joo-bong (Lee Dong-hwi) was the smart younger brother who was sidelined in everything. They hit a mysterious woman Oh Ro-ra (Lee Honey), who lost her memory from the accident and continues to hang out around the brothers while they are in town. The brothers’ return for their father’s funeral becomes opportunities for them to have a second chance at their lives and they will do anything for it, including selling out their own family’s fortune…
Now, watching this movie is like being teleported into a family back in Joseon Dynasty, because the Geosan Lee family is hellbent on keeping the Confucian family tradition alive. While the First Son/First Grandson thing might go over your head, it is something important, especially in the funeral setting the characters are thrown into. The brothers might seem selfish a first, but they soon bond over family secrets and their late parents. I don’t know why but I laugh, then cry, then roar with laughter, and sob, before laughing with tears streaming down my face. A good comedy and a real tearjerker that will remind you of your parents.
그것만이 내세상 (Keys to the Heart, Lit. “That’s Only My World”)
2018 release, 120 minutes run
Tearjerker meter: 💧💧💧💧
A has-been boxer Jo-ha (Lee Byung-hun) runs into his mom In-sook (Yoon Yeo-jung) after 17 years of being apart, only to find out that he has a younger brother he has never known all his life: Jin-tae (Park Jung-min). He eventually moves in with them since he needs a place to sleep and begins looking after Jin-tae, a Savant syndrome patient with a penchant for all things piano, aside from games and instant noodles. Jo-ha also learns that Jin-tae is a fan of a famous pianist Ga-yool (Han Ji-min), the same person who hit him with her car. As Jo-ha navigates his life around his unique brother, their mother slowly drifts further apart from them…
Despite not being portrayed on the screen, the domestic violence experienced by both Jo-ha and his mom made a strong impact on me. True, Jo-ha might have resented his mother when she ran away and left him behind to stay with his abusive father, but she herself was tormented with the guilt of having no other choice. Another thing that I like is that the brothers not only bond with each other but also find a group of close-knit people in the landlady’s family and also Ga-yool’s family. A healing and satisfying journey, especially when Jo-ha confronts the person who changed his life forever.
나의 특별한 형제 (Inseparable Bros, Lit. “My Special Brother”)
2018 release, 120 minutes run
Tearjerker meter: 💧💧💧💧
When he was still a child, Se-ha (Shin Ha-kyun) was abandoned by his father at a care house operated by a kind priest because he is physically disabled and unintentionally befriended a mentally disabled Dong-gu (Lee Kwang-soo). They depend on each other, living almost like one single entity until adulthood: Se-ha is the brain, while Dong-gu is the brawn of the pair. Problems arise when the priest who has been maintaining the house passes away and the fundings being cut permanently, despite Se-ha’s effort to keep things afloat. Se-ha encourages Dong-gu to join a swimming competition with the help of Mi-hyun (Esom), a part-time lifeguard who is familiar with the pair. Another crisis appears to tear them apart, this time in the form of someone from Dong-gu’s past…
This is a good watch for those looking for a slightly different movie about brothers because Se-ha doesn’t share a drop of blood with Dong-gu, yet Dong-gu faithfully stands behind Se-ha like a knight in shining armour. They mean the world to each other and this is expressed more often through their eyes. It breaks my heart how they want the best for each other and thinks that they are better apart from each other, but they just cannot live without each other. It also shows a sad reality some children with disabilities have to face, which is being abandoned and disowned by their own families. Sometimes, a family is not something you’re born into; it’s something you find yourself along the way.
These titles are mostly from the recent releases and I’m sure there are many more that I haven’t had the chance to check out yet. Have you watched any of the titles listed above? Which one is your favourite? Or do you have another favourite brotherhood Korean movies?