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Monday, October 4, 2010

Modern Masterpieces #3: Happy End (2000)

I’ve been championing Jeong Ji-woo’s phenomenal film, Happy End, for sometime now (See an old review here) and it’s, tragically, still an underappreciated classic waiting for discovery. Granted, I’ve not sold my girlfriend into the sex industry in order to fund this films release outside of Asia (sorry folks), and as of writing Happy End still hasn't been picked up for UK distribution! With labels folding left right and centre after releasing any schlock to come form the orient with some blood and maybe some nudity, to think that Happy End remains elusive is starting to prove insulting.

Not only is it one of the finest movies of the past decade, but also one of the key films in the Korean new-wave movement which started to emerge in the late 90’s. It stars some of South Korea’s biggest names, with instant recognition for both Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik and prestigious actress, and Cannes-winner, Jeon Do-yeon (The Housemaid) in early, but career launching, roles as the husband and wife of the story. Mo Ju-jin is also no stranger to fans of Korean cinema, with his roles in art-house fare like Kim Ki-duk’s Real Fiction and blockbusters like Musa: The Warrior rounding out the main cast and giving his best performance to date here.

Bo-ra (Jeon) is having an affair with college sweetheart, Kim (Mo). Her relationship with husband Seo (Choi) is lifeless, seemingly in existence to provide for their new born daughter. Seo becomes aware of his wife’s infidelity but is contempt with the situation; as long as they stay together and raise their child he’s willing to turn the other cheek. However an unfortunate accident leaves the infant hospitalised and this infuriates Seo, as a result he becomes determined on putting an end to his wife’s affair.

What elevates Happy End out of your typical melodrama tedium is the superb, scratch that, it’s the exquisite characterisation found within the script and the performers willing to launch body and soul into their respective roles. Normal melodrama is a chore to sit through, with directors relying on over the top incidents and awful musical cues to provoke the desired reaction the story cannot delivery organically. However, with Happy End Jeong Ji-woo doesn’t need to rely on external elements to provoke his desired reaction form the audience; the story development is of such a standard that you understand all three characters and can understand why they act the way they do: be it Bo-ra’s desire for passion, Kim’s infatuation or Seo’s belief in family unity. You will not agree with their actions at times, but you’ll understand the reasons behind them; which is what makes the film all the more horrific as the film careens towards its devastating finale.

With a market that has been flooded by all sorts of trash from the Far East, it remains a mystery that such a bold, daring, and genuinely fantastic, film such as Happy End remains the elusive omission for fans of well developed adult material. Despite the films success at the 2000 Cannes film festival and the stars this films boasts, it’s frankly baffling why this remains without distribution here in the United Kingdom: fingers need pulling from rectal cavities and Happy End deserves to find its British audience.

Unfortunately Happy End does not yet have a UK release.

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