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Happy End - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Hae-pi En-deu

South Korea 1999

Genre:
Drama, Thriller

Director:
Jeong Ji-woo

Cast:
Jeon Do-yeon
Choi Min-sik
Joo Jin-mo
Hwang Mi-seon
Kim Byeong-choon
Yoo Yeon-soo
Joo Hyeon
Park Joo-hee


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Happy End

Happy End - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Bo-ra (Jeon Do-yeon) is a businesswoman who works all day long and at home also needs to take care of her baby and her unemployed husband Min-ki (Choi Min-sik). Most of the time Min-ki spends his day at a book store, where he browses through novels without paying, or he just sits in front of the tv and watches soap operas. He suffers from a deep depression since he constantly writes letters of application, but is never invited to an interview. The only thing he sometimes takes care of belovedly is his child. For Bo-ra life at home has become a real ordeal. She therefore finds good distraction in Il-beom (Joo Jin-mo) with whom she has an affair. The two know each other since college and are coworkers. Slowly but steadily Min-kin realizes, though, that his wife meets with someone else. He even manages to get access to Il-beom's apartment, but for the time being Min-ki pretends as if he doesn't know anything about the affair. However, the husband can't look the other way anymore, when Bo-ra's meetings with Il-beom start to threaten the health of their mutual child. Min-ki forges a plan, how things could still head towards a happy end for him...

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Review: "Happy End" once again proves that Korean movies and especially dramas have been on a completely different level a few years back, a standard that seldomly is achieved nowadays because of too much unnecessary sensationalism or melodrama. Or we get a drama which is so much art-house cinema that you have to fight the urge to fall asleep. "Happy End", on the other hand, is still a captivating movie when watching today, maybe setting a rather unhurried pacing, but featuring enough developments for us to be constantly thrilled how the drama, which inevitably unfolds, might end. Particularly well done is that the director doesn't make it easy for us to differentiate between good and evil. Our sympathies shift in the course of the movie on more than just one occasion and nothing is as easy as it might seem at first glance. On paper the love triangle probably doesn't amount to much, but that's not important, after all.

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Bo-ra is a hard-working businesswoman, who even attends to her duties as a housewife. Thus, it is in fact quite difficult to sympathize with the husband, who either hangs around in a bookstore or on the couch without accomplishing anything. You are more inclined to forgive Bo-ra for her affair. Ultimately, she deserves some kind of reward and a bit of freedom for her hard work. Yet, things naturally become difficult because of the child that is part of the marriage. When Min-ki then finds out about the affair, but still pretends not to know anything - maybe, like the viewer, he thinks that he didn't deserve any better - you slowly start to feel sorry for him. However, things change when the affair affects the health of the mutual child. That's when Min-ki decides to do something.

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The mystery novels the husband reads in his free time help him quite well to plan his revenge, but in the end you have to ask yourself, no matter how his revenge might turn out, if Min-ki won't suffer from the conesequences of his doing, too. And in fact the movie doesn't go down the easy path at all. Of course, the movie's title should be questioned and depending on your interpretation might even stand as sarcasm in its most bitter way. Yet, it needs to be stressed that the actions, no matter how extreme they might seem, are always comprehensible, regardless of what individual you look at. This also concerns a very violent scene which was somewhat to be expected, yet is everything but easy to digest. But that this drama is for an adult audience is already apparent when it comes to its numerous sex scenes, which especially in 1999 were very, very daring.

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Right at the start we get a scene that doesn't differ much from softcore porn. The only thing irritating is the camera man, who moves around a bit too noticeably. However, the sex scenes serve the story and years later director Jeong Ji-woo should prove with "A Muse" once again that he doesn't utilize such scenes merely to be the talk of the town. Instead, he adds some more emotions to the play this way, creating a nice contrast to the otherwise subtle drama scenes. Choi Min-sik ("The Admiral: Roaring Currents", "New World") naturally delivers a more than decent performance, but Jeon Do-yeon ("Way Back Home", "The Housemaid") comes across especially strong since she doesn't seem as cold as usually. It's particularly the different facets the two actors can elicit from their roles which carry the movie so well.

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Joo Jin-mo ("A Love", "Musa") on the other hand turns out a bit shallower, but regardless of that the love triangle is still a complex web that is subject to constant shifts and changes, so that on a narrative level there is enough suspense as well. Reason for that is that all three characters are motivated by lust and wants, which lead to decisions that may be regretted later, but in a way they are always understandable from a human point of view. Especially appealing is the fact, that you can't really assess at the end whose decision has been the worst of them all. It's exactly this ambiguity which denies us a clear answer that makes "Happy End" so unusual. Accordingly, the ending is open to interpretation, without really any questions being left unanswered, except for the ones you need to find yourself. A movie from a time when Korean cinema always managed to bring to screen something extraordinary.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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