The Bros (2017) is a fun Korean comedy-drama set in Andong.
Two very different brothers have to return to their conservative hometown for their father’s funeral. They have become estranged from the rest of the family and from each other. And during the three day mourning period they revert to their sibling bickering and they argue over past grievances. But one thing they have in common is that they have no time for the traditional Confucian values that the elders try again to instil in them when they return. On the contrary, they both try to use the family estate for their own financial gain. But in the end, some truths are revealed.
Confucian Kingship of Korea (book review)
Confucian values taught through short stories
The film has a great cast.
This is such a fun film with a great cast. Korean-American actor Ma Dong-seok (who became popular after his fantastic performance in Train to Busan, 2017) plays the ‘buff but penniless’ older brother. He’s a history teacher but in debt. So he spends his time rifling through the family estate for valuables to flog. In contrast, the younger brother, played by Lee Dong-hwi (Extreme Job, 2019), is ‘smart and wimpy’ and successful in the corporate world.
On the way to the funeral, the two brothers meet an unusual lady (played by Honey Lee who also starred in Extreme Job 2019). She adds a mysterious element to the story. She somehow knows that Buddhist statues worth a fortune are buried in Andong.
Capitalism vs Confucianism
It’s clear that the brothers live in a capitalist society while the elders try desperately to keep Confucian traditions alive. So a lot of the comedy comes from the clashes in the generation gap. The materialism shown by both brothers is realistic and unbecoming! But unfortunately, it seems that their family estate is not rolling in money. (In Joseon times your class was defined by your education and family line, not money. So noble families could still be poor.)
At one point, the older brother is excited when he thinks he’s found the original calligraphy of Han Seok-bong – one of the most celebrated Korean calligraphers of the Joseon period. But it’s just a copied work by one of his students, so he instantly loses interest in the work. Then he’s scolded by an elder who still values the calligraphy despite it not being worth a lot of money.
But the film doesn’t idealise the past either.
It’s clear that life in the past wasn’t perfect though. The elders quiz the younger brother’s colleague to see if she will make a suitable wife. Dressed in their traditional Joseon robes, they ask her about the duties of a good wife. The farcical interrogation comes to an abrupt end just as she is supposed to tell them about what a good wife should do if her husband dies. The reality was, even if she was very young, she would not be able to marry again, and would have to continue living with and looking after her in-laws. And so we are reminded that the patriarchal Joseon period had limited opportunities for women!
What can we learn about the status and roles of women in the Joseon Palace as presented in Jewel in the Crown?
What can we learn about Joseon society through the paintings of Shin Yun Bok?
The iconic story of Han Seok bong and his mum
The setting of Andong is significant.
Andong City, in Gyeongsangbuk Province is the setting of the film. And it’s significant for the story as this was home to many elite Confucian scholars and influential yangban noble families during the Joseon period.
The famous Andong Kim clan became the most powerful clan in the country – more powerful than the king – towards the end of the Joseon period. (So perhaps it’s meaningful that the brothers’ surname in the film is not Kim, but Lee)
These days, Andong is still THE place to visit if you want to see a traditional hanok village or experience a night in a traditional hanok house. Many of the houses have been turned into guest houses for tourists after a taste of traditional life. We stayed in a hanok house there too.
This Korean comedy drama is packed with relatable problems such as money worries, sibling rivalry, generation gaps, and materialism. But at the heart of the story there are two brothers who as adults start to get to know each other. With engaging and humorous characters, as well as some poignant scenes, this is a funny and endearing film with a moving finale.
Andong Hanok Village