A Model Family review – South Korea’s answer to Breaking Bad is a thrill ride

August 12, 2022
Jonathon Wilson 0
K-Drama, Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
4

Summary

A Model Family takes a well-worn genre and delivers it in a slick, efficient, and binge-worthy package.

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4

Summary

A Model Family takes a well-worn genre and delivers it in a slick, efficient, and binge-worthy package.

This review of A Model Family Season 1 is spoiler-free. You can check out all of our coverage of this show by clicking these words.


Those of us who were watching South Korean television long before Squid Game became an international phenomenon weren’t exactly surprised by that show’s record-breaking success. In fact, it had felt like just a matter of time before something from the region entered and reshaped the cultural zeitgeist, and Squid Game, with its simple premise, resonant themes, and meme-ready presentation, was just the first to get there. A Model Family might be the next one. There’s nothing new or even especially interesting about it, which might be the point. It takes a well-worn Western subgenre — the desperate times, desperate measures thriller typified by stuff like Breaking BadOzark, and Your Honor — and delivers it in a slick and efficient binge-ready ten-episode package.

The simple premise runs thusly. Park Dong-ha is a man at the end of his tether. After banking his family’s future on achieving tenure, which he attempted to bribe his way into, he’s left completely adrift in his own failure. His wife, Eun-ju, wants to divorce him and isn’t afraid of telling the kids, Hyun-woo and Yeon-woo, that she has had enough. Hyun-woo, though, has a heart condition and will die without a transplant, so the family’s bank balance isn’t just a matter of pride but of life and death.

So, when Dong-ha happens upon a van containing two dead bodies and a holdall stuffed with cash, he does what any desperate father would do — he steals the moolah and buries all the evidence in his backyard. Of course, the dough belongs to some unsavory types who want it back and it quickly becomes apparent that Dong-ha is hugely out of his depth. But it also becomes apparent at the end of the first episode that the family he’s risking everything to provide for might not be all they seem either.

Nothing further on the plot from me, at least not here. But that should suffice to give you a decent sense of what A Model Family is trying to achieve. It might not be a direct remake like the recent South Korean re-do of Money Heist, but it’s obvious that the point here is to one-up recent Western variations of the same theme, and that doubles as a clever marketing ploy. “Oh, you liked Ozark?” this show seems to ask, “Well, here’s how you do that kind of thing properly.” And just like that, there’s an audience knocking at the door, eager to either prove the show right or wrong. Either way, it gets watched, tweeted about, and discussed.

For the most part, I’d say people will walk away pretty satisfied. Dong-ha isn’t as capable a protagonist as, say, Walter White, a guy who found himself in over his head but at least had some expertise to fall back on. Dong-ha is a bit of an idiot, and a lot of the suspense stems from him constantly making bad decisions. But the addition of a more familial mystery that existed before Dong-ha even made the ill-advised decision to take the money in the first place adds a different texture and prevents A Model Family from feeling too reiterative. It’s still a very familiar setup, but the devil is in the details, after all.

You can stream A Model Family Season 1 exclusively on Netflix.

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