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Original Title:
Majimak Seonmul

South Korea 2008


Kim Yeong-joon

Shin Hyeon-joon
Heo Joon-ho
Jo Soo-min
Kwon O-joong
Ha Ji-won
Kim Sang-ho
Jo Won-hee
Bang Hyeob
Park Min-ji
Choi Seong-ho
Kim Hyeon-ah
Kim Ik-tae
Jo Jin-woong

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His Last Gift

aka Last Present

Story: Jo Yeong-woo (Heo Joon-ho) has a little daughter, Sae-hee (Jo Soo-min), who suffers from a rare disease. The only thing that could save her is a liver transplantation. Unfortunately, the only candidate that comes into consideration is Jo's old high school friend Kang Tae-joo (Shin Hyeon-joon), who serves a sentence because of murder. Kang is temporarily released in order to prepare for the operation, though. This potential opportunity isn't passed up by him and he tries to escape several times, but is always apprehended shorly thereafter. When Tae-joo finds out eventually, that his former pregnant wife, which he abandoned after going to jail, is in fact Yeong-woo's deceased wife, everything is changed. Because this means that Sae-hee is actually Tae-joo's child! Slowly pangs of conscience start to haunt him. He tries to build up a connection to Sae-hee, but naturally this isn't well received by Yeong-woo, who sees himself as the true father of the girl, even though he is quite aware of the truth. But the two of them agree on one thing: They have to save their daughter's life at whatever costs...

Review: It's easy to write something bad about a tearjerker drama. They are manipulative, clichéloaden, predictable, and simply everything but original. Some of these remarks may also apply to "His Last Gift", yet it is also without question that the movie actually succeeds in achieving its goal to move the audience to tears. By what means is only secondary, isn't it? Ok, you may argue over that, but you have to give director Kim Young-jun, who already gained some experience in the fantasy genre with "Bichunmoo" and "Shadowless Sword", kudos for delivering a well-elaborated film, which mainly relies on the characters, and is backed up by some credible acting-pros. Also adding to the movie's quality is the fact that the two main actors don't depict the archetypes of such dramas, also because they made a name for themselves with rather though roles. At least in the case of Heo Joon-ho. What we get in the end is simply a well working tearjerking drama, which may make use of some clichés as already pointed out, yet never overeggs the pudding, and manages to portray the protagonists very credible and sensitive, especially because of their rough character.

"His Last Gift" also is quite honest with the viewer. During the first minutes we already get to understand, that Sae-hee is suffering from a terminal illness, and with the blood running out of her mouth and the following hospital scenes there is also created a certain groundwork of drama. Apart from a few moments, in which Sae-hee for example has to watch the other sick kids around her die off one after another, the movie doesn't spend an unnecessarily long time in a hospital. Soon the film focuses on Tae-joo, who at first is portrayed as a tough and unlikable guy. However, it doesn't take long and the viewer realizes that Tae-joo might be a murderer, but isn't a bad person in his heart after all. The obvious transformation from a detestable criminal to a loving father actually isn't one, as we get to see in flashbacks later on, too, what feelings really characterize Tae-joo. Shin Hyeon-joon ("Shadowless Sword", "Face", "Guns & Talks") does deliver a convinving performance and is allowed to show more of his emotional side than usual.

There are only few films, in which men are crying almost all of the time and where they can still pass as men nonetheless. "His Last Gift" is one of those rare cases. What's bestowing an interesting note on the story is the fact, that primarily there isn't a girl the two protagonists fight over. Hye-yeong, in a nice supporting role depicted by the always charming Ha Ji-won ("100 Days with Mr. Arrogant", "Love so Divine"), has already died after all. And so it's the memories about her, that tears the two men's hearts apart. Yeong-woo has the worst of it, since he was never really loved by her, despite all the things he did for her. Still, she is eternally grateful to him for helping her raise her child, and having made her happy was also everything that mattered to Yeong-woo. Heo Joon-ho ("Silmido", "The Restless") masters the difficult role of a man torn apart in his heart, who has found something of Hye-yeong in Sae-hee, something that he can love more than anything else. During one hard scene he sits at Tae-joo's side and talks about the different roles they played in Hye-yeong's life. Jealousy may be part of his words, but his love to Hye-yeong remains unchanged.

However, with time Tae-joo realizes what he did when he dumped his girlfriend. He wants to make up for it, but things aren't that easy. Moreover, Yeong-woo also doesn't want to give up his role as Sae-hee's father. This all leads to many talks and tears, which can be quite touching. Adding to this is child actress Jo Su-min, who as the daughter doesn't only deliver the essential cuddle factor, but also impresses with her good acting achievements.
Later on, there is some heavy drama stuff to be found, naturally. And so problems arise as they have to, suddenly there is no money for Sae-hee's operation anymore and Tae-joo's past catches up with him, so that his life is in danger. Accordingly Sae-hee's life is in danger, too, as she is supposed to receive Tae-joo's liver. Even though such plot devices may be quite predictable, they are carried out very well and director Kim Young-jun proves that he has no problems in orienting himself in the drama genre. He makes use of flashbacks as effectively as of dream sequences, in which he shows how Tae-joo could had been able to see his daughter grow up if he had been there for her.

Ultimately, "His Last Gift" manages what not many tearjerkers succeed in. The suffering the viewer has to endure gets bigger and bigger, and yet despite all the shed tears there is still something heart-wrenchingly beautiful, that we can keep for us when the movie is over. It's true that director Kim Young-jun could have used his two crying protagonists a little bit more economical, but thanks to the well-written characters, nice acting achievements and a good main plot with that special something, the movie hits its mark despite the genre-typical clichés. To watch two fathers fight for the life of their daughter, and, defying all the cirtumstances and negative emotions towards each other, being connected by the same love, is a moving and rewarding movie experience. Because of all the melodrama, you have to like dramas to appreciate the film, but the good realisation of the story makes it easy for you to suffer along with the protagonists and shed one or two tears...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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