J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Here Comes Uncle Joe: He Delivers

Unfortunately, (Joe) Byung-gi Cho is not in a growth business. He has an extremely loyal but steadily shrinking customer base. For years, he has delivered groceries and sundries to the elderly residents of rural An-dong.  Not just a merchant, he has become an integral part of their lives. However, the demands on his time often cause friction with his own family. Filmmakers Wooyoung Choi & Sinae Ha document his quiet but not necessarily simple life in Here Comes Uncle Joe (promo here), which airs this Sunday on PBS World’s Global Voices.

Once, “Uncle Joe,” as the Aunties and Uncles call him, was a promising academic, until his relationship with a former student short-circuited his career. They are still married, with children, but she begrudges all the time his spends with his An-dong clientele. For many of his customers, Uncle Joe is a lifeline for nutrition and socialization. To some he is a drinking buddy and to others he is a surrogate for the grown children who never visit. He cannot help getting emotionally involved with them, so when one of his aging customers inevitably passes away, it is hard for him to shake it off.

HCUJ is not just about plucky oldsters and the younger sensitive cat who hangs with them. It is largely a gentle observational doc, but the filmmaking duo never sugarcoats Uncle Joe’s disappointments in life or his own family issues. Yet, despite catching him in moments of sadness and regret, they clearly suggest his life has meaning.

So yes, Uncle Joe seems like an unabashedly good guy. The hour long broadcast cut captures some moments of real drama, especially when a beloved community member passes. Still, there is nothing in the film you would consider shocking, by any stretch. Somehow though, the co-writer-co-directors keep all the niceness from getting too cloying. Towards that end, Lee Byung-hoon’s elegant acoustic soundtrack provides a key assist, setting a vibe reminiscent of some Kore-eda’s family dramas.

HCUJ is not as cute and quirky as Marigold Hotel fans might prefer, but it reaffirms the messiness of life nonetheless. While far from indispensible, it is a sensitive look at rural, traditional values-holding Korea. Recommended for Reader’s Digest subscribers with an international interest, Here Comes Uncle Joe airs this Sunday (8/31) as part of the current season of PBS World’s Global Voices.

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