Too fast, too loud, too bright. The pressure cooker society threatens to explode in Shin Dong-il’s sympathetic portrayal of one family’s period of crisis in Come, Together (컴, 투게더). When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions – redundancy (of several kinds), betrayal, anxieties academic and financial, the Parks have more than their fare share to deal with but the cumulative effect of their individual troubles quickly overwhelms their ordinary, middle-class existence, exposing the tiny fractures in its foundation hitherto papered over by chasing the dream of materialism.
From the outside the Parks are just like any typical middle-class family. They live in a nice apartment with a greenhouse balcony and plenty of space for three. Dad Beom-goo (Lim Hyung-guk) is a moderately successful salaryman, but his world collapses when he’s abruptly let go in the most insensitive of ways by his slimy boss. Mum Mi-yeong (Lee Hye-eun) is a credit card saleswoman who earns by commission and is well used to the hard sell. Teenage daughter Han-na (Chae Bin) has taken a year out to retake her university entrance exams but is now in limbo after not doing well enough to be accepted but having been ranked 18th on the waiting list, anxiously waiting to find out if enough people decide to decline the place she is so desperate to win.
Beom-goo losing his job of 18 years is not just humiliating and embarrassing, but as the family are already in huge debt it is also extremely worrying. As a middle-aged man, it’s unlikely Beom-goo is going to be able to find a comparable position in Korea’s competitive labour market where switching companies is still not the norm and most employees are hired right out of college. Having spent the last 18 years debasing himself to flatter his bosses, it’s galling in the least to realise he’s simply been replaced with a younger, cheaper employee he himself helped learn the ropes. Deprived of his breadwinner status, Beom-goo is supposed to be doing the housework but the boredom quickly gets to him and he spends most days lounging around in his pants lamenting his sorry state. That is until he meets the man from upstairs (Kim Jae-rok) who happens to be in a similar position and begins to lead Beom-goo astray before hinting at a much darker course for himself than the one he’s set Beom-goo on.
Mi-yeong is now the sole provider but her work is extremely stressful – not just the high pressure world of sales, but the bitchy, backstabbing atmosphere in the mostly female office. The job is to get people to sign up for credit cards they don’t really need and probably can’t afford, adding to the pressures of the consumerist society which have already landed the Parks in financial difficulty themselves. Mi-yeong is good at her job, she knows how to get people to sign on the dotted line but she’s also desperate enough to risk breaking the rules. When she’s undercut by a colleague whose situation she has misread, Mi-yeong takes it extremely personally, vowing revenge not just on the colleague but on the boss who refused to back her up and the client who betrayed her.
Mi-yeong’s rage and resentment are to have tragic, unforeseen consequences, threatening to deliver everything she’d dreamed of but at a terrible price. Han-na faces a similar dilemma as she finds herself staring at the list of 17 people in the queue in front of her and silently hoping some of them get hit by busses. The tense atmosphere at home only adds to Han-na’s stress levels as Beom-goo’s increasing impotence finds him playing father of the house like never before and deliberately undermining her sense of self esteem by repeatedly bringing up her failure to get into college. Unlike either of her parents, Han-na does at least have a positive influence in her life in the form of friend Yoo-gyeong (Lee Sang-hee), whom both her parents disapprove of because of her deliberate choice to live outside the mainstream.
Yoo-gyeong, though only in her early ‘20s, owns her own store selling leather bracelets and uses the proceeds to fund her free spirited lifestyle of taking off backpacking across whichever land takes her fancy. When Han-na says she wishes she could live like Yoo-gyeong, Yoo-gyeong bristles, insisting that she’d support whichever decision Han-na makes but that she ought to live her own life the way she wants rather than emulating someone else. Also, by way of an aside, she points out that people seem to assume she does exactly as she pleases but that’s not quite the case. In fact, it may be that Yoo-gyeong is, in a sense, forced to live a life outside of the mainstream simply by virtue of who she is and that her frequent flights to pastures new are a kind of escape or of running away from various social pressures at home.
Irrespective of whether or not they get what they thought it was they wanted, each is forced to reassess their way of living, realising that their relentless pursuit of material gain and the socially accepted definition of success has only made them miserable. Rather than continuing down the road to ruin, the Parks decide to choose happiness by simply dropping out, resetting their lives with the intention of doing what it is they want to do rather than what it is they think they’re supposed to. Waking up from a conformist delusion reawakens the freedom to embrace individual desires but it also restores the family to its previously happy state, released from the strain of modern life in favour of simpler, more essential pleasures.
Screened at the London Korean Film Festival 2017.
Original trailer (select English subtitles from captions menu)