It’s rare to find such cinematic gems that so effectively overcome language barriers to tug at heartstrings and draw you in for a long, warm hug.
Kang Dae-kyu’s ‘Pawn’ goes down a similar path that was tread in ‘Miracle in Cell No 7’ to explore the subgenre of surrogate fathers. While ‘Miracle …’ saw a group of prisoners raise an inmate’s child together, ‘Pawn’ follows two debt collectors who end up adopting a young child who they had kidnapped as collateral.
As the film opens in UAE cinemas on July 15, we take a look at why ‘Pawn’ is the perfect watch with the family over the long Eid Al Adha break.
Kang Dae-kyu is king of compassion
If you’ve been impressed by director Kang Dae-kyu’s ‘Harmony’, which depicted the tale of inmates with unfortunate stories who find hope through music, then keep those tissues handy before you watch ‘Pawn’. In his own words, the award-winning described his work on the movie by saying: “I prepared for ‘Pawn’ as if I were making a film for the first time. ‘Pawn’ is like a treasure to me.”
The efforts show in the way Dae-kyu effortlessly weaves humour into some of the most emotionally charged scenes in the film. But the credit really goes to him to make child actress Park Soi, who portrayed the role of nine-year-old Seung-yi, shine on screen in some of the most difficult moments in the film.
Speaking about working with Dae-kyu, Park said: “I remember how the director cried with me for an emotional scene,” to help her immerse in her role and learn to cry behind the camera for the camera.
‘Pawn’ tells the story of two ruthless loan sharks Du-seok (Sung Dong-il) and Jong-bae (Kim Hee-won) who take nine-year-old Seung-yi (Park) as collateral in the hopes of collecting her mother’s debt, but fortuitously end up raising her. Ha Ji-won, who portrays adult Seung-yi claimed she was left in tears after reading the screenplay. “I think the audience will be able to empathise deeply with ‘Pawn’. It’s a film that is really needed in this day and age,” while adding that she decided to take part without hesitation.
Sung also added: “I took part in the film with my three children in mind. I can’t wait to show it to them. Armed with such lovely and warm charms, ‘Pawn’ not only promises to bring happy smiles across theatres, but also leave deep impressions with a message that can be shared by all generations.”
Cracker of a chemistry
Sung and Kim as the prickly retired army officers who become loan sharks are a delight to watch on screen. Feeding off each other’s sardonic sense of humour, the duo perfectly balance out the emotionally heavy moments from ‘Pawn’.
Explaining their close friendship, Kim says: “I like Sung Dong-il a lot and he likes working with me too. Just like Du-seok and Jong-bae, I like bantering with him which came out naturally in the film.”
A star is born
Child actress Park Soi is the surprise package of the film. Bringing innocent humour to her character, Park manages to defer from the cloying sweetness that child stars are expected to emote on screen. Her confidence, just with a hint of sass, puts her miles ahead of the competition and a sure-fire force to reckon with in Korean film and TV.
According to the makers, Park was selected out of a shortlist of 300 hopefuls vying for the role. If she looks familiar, it is possible you saw her shine as Yoo-min in ‘Deliver Us from Evil’.
‘Pawn’ director Kang spoke highly of her, saying: “She is an actress who is well aware of the situation and gets instantly immersed in her role really well. She has great concentration and energy. Her beautiful eyes will attract audiences and keep them glued to her throughout the film.”
Film review: Korean film ‘Pawn’ is all heart with child star Park Soi the surprise package
Movies that have a child star at its centre tow a dangerous line between endearing and annoying. ‘Pawn’, which focuses on a child who is kidnapped by two lovable loan sharks who end up adopting her when her mother is deported, tugs at heartstrings thanks to an award-worthy performance by Park Soi.
Park, who plays the nine-year-old pawn Seung-yi, is a breath of fresh air in a role that allows her to push the boundaries of her talent, be it when playing an innocent prank on her adoptive father or being pushed into the depths of darkness when sold into modern-day slavery.
Director Kang Dae-kyu takes inspiration from films such as ‘Miracle in Cell No 7’ and his own ‘Harmony’, yet laces his drama with enough humour to avoid bogging it down with too much emotion. What also sets this film apart is the sympathetic message it gives out for Korean-Chinese immigrants in South Korea.
Seung-yi, who is the child of an illegal immigrant, finds a home and new purpose as she is raised by Du-seok and Jong-bae. Their three-way dynamic is one of the highlights of the film, each one feeding of the other’s sass and humour to give some of the film’s laugh out loud moments.
As Seung-yi grows into a successful young woman, finding her own feet in the world, a cruel twist of fate tears the dynamic apart in a dramatic turn of events that is worthy of any Bollywood boiler.
What also elevates the film are restrained performances by its lead stars Sung Dong-il and Kim Hee-won who could have stumbled their way into a slapstick set of sequences but use their talents to reel in their characters to the camera’s advantage.
Credit also should be given to Kang, who steers a tight ship on the most part, but loses his way in the final chapter of his generational saga. But you don’t have the heart to hold the climax against him, considering he delivers more than one expects in the first 90 minutes of the drama.
At a time when cinemas are bracing for superhero adventures and action tentpoles, this small film is all heart and definitely worth a watch over the Eid Al Adha break with your children in tow.
Don’t miss it!
‘Pawn’ releases in UAE cinemas on July 15. The film is in Korean with English subtitles.