Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Like Breaking Bad and Ozark, Netflix original series A Model Family is about the people who commit a crime to protect their family. The series tells the thrilling story of a man, who unwittingly steals money from a cartel and finds the only way to save his broken family is by working as a drug courier.
The core of this show is the strange coexistence of a crime thriller and a family drama, which seem practically impossible, just like the ironic title. The first few episodes follow Gwang Chul (Park Hee Soon), the second-in-command of the drug cartel, going after Dong Ha (Jung Woo), who stole 5 billion KRW (about $3.7 million) from them. Here, A Model Family places the police and another crime organization that observes the two of them on the down low, doubling the tension by painting out the friction of various groups for their own benefit.
New friction surfaces when Gwang Chul orders Dong Ha to work as a drug courier; the conflict between Dong Ha and his family rises to the apex because of his crimes. He argues with his wife Eun Joo (Yoon Jin Seo) every day and his daughter Yeon Woo, in the middle of the adolescence storm, goes astray. Dong Ha finds himself boxed into a corner when something totally unexpected happens. Gwang Chul, who’s been threatening Dong Ha, solves the family issue, whether he intended or not, creating ironic fun.
Jung Woo’s performance is just brilliant. The actor realistically depicts the desperate feelings of a father who has to protect his family even while yielding to Gwang Chul’s threats and delivering the drugs in terror. The tears and face that he made as he blamed himself for losing the money for his son’s surgery in episode 1 are just so vivid that it feels like his raw emotions are flowing out rather than a performance of a scripted play. There are times when you feel frustrated by Dong Ha’s absurd choice of actions, but Jung Woo’s prowess that convincingly portrays the character driven to the edge of the cliff makes us feel bad for him rather than annoyed.
Park Hee Soon, who takes on the role of Gwang Chul, the second-in-command, also dominates the play with his charisma. Using Dong Ha as his puppet, Gwang Chul fulfills his ambition, and in a way, he might resemble Choi Mu Jin in Netflix’s My Name. You might think “Isn’t this basically the same plot?” but Park Hee Soon dismisses such a suspicion with his heavy presence. He plays a pivotal role in the story, delicately portraying Gwang Chul, an orphan, wavering at the sight of Dong Ha’s sacrifice for his family. Besides them, Yoon Jin Seo playing Dong Ha’s wife Eun Joo; Choi Moo Sung playing the drug cartel’s boss; and Kim Sung Oh playing the new face of the rival gang, also flawlessly played their parts, painting out the gripping narrative of each character.
But there is also a letdown. In a way, the show fails to properly wrap up what it started in the beginning. Especially the police, playing another axis of the story besides Dong Ha’s family and Gwang Chul’s cartel, don’t find their place in the story. Kang Ju Hyun (Park Ji Yeon), a team leader of the narcotics, and her team surveil Dong Ha and Gwang Chul, but they try to use them as bait to get the boss. However, that process takes longer than necessary, and it is frustrating to see nothing being solved. There’s a surprising twist in the latter part of the story – the police had black connections with the cartel – but the twist that’s revealed after everything has already been sorted out leaves the viewers cold.
Nevertheless, A Model Family keeps up with its stable tempo throughout ten episodes with plenty of room to focus and things to think about. While maintaining the tension of the crime thriller, it asks us the question “what is truly precious” through the story of a family. It feels like I’ve seen a rough and cruel but heartbreaking family drama. Dong Ha, who committed a crime for his family, hangs on to the last piece of hope even after being thrown into the hell called reality, passing the baton to the second season. Dong Ha’s father Deuk Su’s line – “Don’t be far from your family” – hits the hearts of the viewers as the message the show wants to convey. (7/10)
Editor Hwang Hong Sun: A Korean movie buff who wishes that the warm messages in good works will warm up this world at least by one degree Fahrenheit.