TIFF 2023: “A Normal Family” That is Far from being Normal

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“It’s incredibly easy to pass judgment on others for their heinous actions, but when the same actions are committed by a family member, we often hesitate to hold them accountable. Responsibility and being responsible should ideally go hand in hand, but some view it as an act of will that can neither be denied nor ignored.

Enter ‘A Normal Family,’ a far cry from being ordinary; they are dysfunctional, wealthy, and entitled. The story revolves around an exceptional lawyer, Jae-wan (played by Sul Kyung-gu), who takes on the case of a wealthy client’s son involved in a deliberate hit-and-run incident due to road rage. His brother, Jae-gyu (portrayed by Jang Dong-gun), is a successful surgeon who attempts to save the life of the deceased man’s daughter, a victim of Jae-wan’s client. Both siblings have their own moral compasses, with Jae-wan doing his job even when it means protecting a guilty man from prison. However, when a deeply unsettling incident within their family unfolds, they find themselves facing the same moral dilemmas they had previously questioned in others. This puts their relationships on the brink of collapse, making repair seem nearly impossible.

Based on the Dutch novel ‘Het Diner’ (The Dinner), Korean filmmaker Hur Jin-ho delivers this year’s most disturbing film to date. It’s akin to being told that it’s going to rain, only to step outside and find yourself caught in a relentless storm that shows no empathy toward anyone. The film opens with a man driving a red car at an alarming speed, prompting the driver of an SUV to emerge wielding a baseball bat, ready to strike. He even shouts at the driver of the red car, warning him that he’s picked the wrong fight. Little does he know that the driver of the red car might have been the exact person he should have avoided. In a shocking twist, the red car driver reverses, stops, and plows straight into him, instantly killing him and gravely injuring his daughter.

This is where we meet Jae-wan, as he devises a defense strategy for his client to secure his release from prison. Following this, he prepares for a dinner with his brother, where we meet their wives, Yeon-kyung (played by Kim Hee-ae), who barely conceals her jealousy towards Ji-su’s (Claudia Kim) youth and beauty. Tensions between them are palpable. Amidst this gathering, both brothers engage in discussions of their own grievances, while their children venture into acts that could irreparably damage the family. What unfolds is a dramatic showdown between good and evil, conscience and responsibility, remorse and regret—a narrative that takes you on an unforgettable journey and offers much more than meets the eye.

‘The Dinner’ boasts exceptional writing, direction, and performances from the entire cast. It’s sharp, wicked, and utterly flawless. It’s the type of film best experienced on the big screen, where you can witness the audience’s futile attempts to steer the characters away from their impending mistakes. These are moments you won’t want to miss out on. As for the film’s concept, it transcends boundaries and offers a viewing experience that’s out of this world. One thing is certain: you won’t be disappointed once you watch it. Just make sure you clear your schedule afterward because I doubt you’ll be able to carry on with your plans. As for myself, I thought I had already finalized my Top 10 list of films from the 23rd Toronto International Film Festival that I had seen. Suddenly, ‘A Normal Family’ emerged out of nowhere and confidently proclaimed, ‘I don’t care; I will be your number 1.’ Honestly, I couldn’t agree more with that statement, and I’m willing to bet you won’t either.”

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