If you had told me previously that the actor from such action thrillers as “The Chaser”, “The Yellow Sea”, “Haemoo” or “The Thieves” would make his directorial debut with a tender human drama about adultery, friendship, responsibility and growing up, while also having co-written the script for the film, I would have probably laughed you out of the room. Yet here we are, with “Another Child” proving to be a triumphant directorial debut for Kim Yoon-seok.

Another Child” is screening at New York Asian Film Festival

Joo-ri is in a dilemma. The high-school student has just found out that her father Dae-won is having an affair with Mi-hee, the mother of another student Yoon-ah from her school, who she really doesn’t get along with, and that Mi-hee is carrying her father’s child. Both Joo-ri and Yoon-ah are completely against the relationship and have been thinking of ways to have Mi-hee lose the unborn child, while Joo-ri tries to keep her mother Yeong-joo from discovering the affair and the pregnancy. Their lives change, however, and get intertwined with each other’s when Yeong-joo finds out about the adultery and the baby is delivered very prematurely.

As an actor, Kim Yoon-seok is known for understanding deeply his characters and portraying them with rich conviction. It is no surprise then that he manages to realise this little world, lensed beautifully by Hwang Ki-seok, and fill it with equally rich characters. Joo-ri is a child who has grown up protected by loving parents who haven’t let her come in harm’s way, while Yoon-ah has grown up with a single mother who may be elder to her but is the more immature of the two, head over heels in love. The film’s Korean title translates as “Underage” and it ponders over who really is the grown-up and who the underage with the brilliant juxtaposition of the adult and teenage characters, with how the circumstances are forcing the actual underage girls to grow up swiftly while also forcing some of the adults to behave quite like the underaged. The teenage angst that the girls feel towards their respective parents for this relationship that affects them as well and for not doing something about the pregnancy is believable and written in a relatable manner.

Equally relatable are the emotions and reactions of the three adults. While Mi-hee is the hopeless romantic who is just happy to receive the love she has craved for years, Yeong-joo is severely conflicted between the duty she feels towards her daughter and family and the anger she feels towards her husband and the woman who managed to take him away from her. Dae-won, meanwhile, is unable to tackle his situation clearly and prefers to literally run away from responsibilities and confrontations. The film manages to portray the circumstances from the point of view of all five parties involved without really taking any sides deftly. It also manages to shy away from the heavy-handed melodrama that films with such subject matter would otherwise be prone to slip into.

Kim Yoon-seok takes a back seat here and lets the females of his film do the heavy-lifting, who all manage to do an excellent job with their characters. The two young actresses Kim Hye-joon and Park Se-jin, who play Joo-ri and Yoon-ah respectively, are the core of the story and manage to carry the film with surprising surety. The two have a lovely chemistry between them which is very evident in every scene they share. Kim So-jin is adorable as Mi-hee, her smile as infectious as her tears heartbreaking. With arguably the biggest character arc, Yum Jung-ah owns every emotional scene as Yeong-joo, making the character shine a lot brighter that it otherwise would. Kim Yoon-seok manages to give Dae-won gravitas and heart where other, less able actors might have just made him a despicable sleazeball. He has also managed to call upon some old acquaintances and friends, like his “Haemoo” and “1987: When the Day Comes” co-star Lee Hee-joon as Yoon-ah’s absentee father, among others, for small but important parts.

The question on most people’s minds before going into “Another Child” is if Kim Yoon-seok is as good at directing as he is at acting and, based on what’s showcased here, the answer is a resounding “yes”. His command over is his characters and actors is highly commendable. The film offers drama, humour and warmth in equally competent manner. It heralds the coming of a strong new directorial voice, who manages to impress with a very real, very engaging coming-of-age story that is populated with genuine characters and an eye for detail. Here is an artist whose next directorial effort should be anticipated as eagerly as audience anticipate films which star him.