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Original Title:
Sun Mool

South Korea 2001


Oh Ki-hwan

Lee Jung-Jae
Lee Yeong-ae
Kong Hyeong-jin
Kwon Hae-hyo
Lee Mu-hyeon
Kim Sang-Jin
Kim Tae-Hee

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Last Present

Story: Unsuccessful wanna-be comedian Park Yong-gi (Lee Jung-Jae) and his comedy actor partner Cheol-su (Kong Hyeong-jin) try hard to gain a foothold in the entertaining business. Meanwhile Yong-gi's relationship with his wife Jung-Yeon (Lee Yeong-ae) is frozen. After Yong-gi and Jung-Yeon lost their son the two haven't much to talk about anymore. Yong-gi thinks his wife doesn't respect him because he earns no money. However, actually Jung-Yeon suffers from a terminal illness, which she wants to hide from her husband, because she doesn't want him to lose his smile.
Yong-gi finds out that his wife will die soon, but accepts her decision to hide it from him and so he acts as if he doesn't know about the illness. Instead, with the help of two bamboozlers he searches for some old friends of whom he knows that his wife would like to see them one last time.
While his wife's condition goes from bad to worse Yong-gi tries his best and even manages to get the chance to appear in a comedy show which might be his big breakthrough...

Review: "Last Present" is an at times very predictable melodrama. The viewer oftentimes has the feeling that director Oh Ki-hwan makes use of every known ploy in a pretty obvious way in order to go for some tears. The plot itself is also not really inventive. A woman who suffers from an illness, which wasn't even worth the scriptwriter to name it, has only a few days left to live and wants to hide her disease from her husband.
Nonetheless, despite the pretty familiar plot the movie avoids being a cheap tearjerker-drama, but in fact can be very moving and nice to watch. For one thing that is because of the director's skills who succeeds in bringing the emotionally important scenes to screen with a fine eye for details and for another thing it's because of the actors who all give their best.
Since the movie also takes place in the comedy-biz storywise the film also gets a bitter-sweet note. "Last Present" takes itself very seriously when it has to, yet also doesn't do so without telling the story with a wink when it is possible.

The movie's story revolves around the relationship between Yong-gi and Jung-Yeon. At first, we don't see any love between the two at all, but only hate. Jung-Yeon is upset because her husband is a good-for-nothing and stays only afloat by taking on jobs in night clubs. Moreover, Yong-gi doesn't care about his wife, so eventually the two even don't share the same bedroom anymore. Jung-Yeon on the other side seems to be very cold and rejective. Only as time goes by we start to realize that the two are actually still connected by a strong bond of love. It's just that both of them say and do the exact opposite of what they think. For Jung-Yeon her behaviour is some kind of defense mechanism to avoid getting her husband's pity. Her love for Yong-gi is so strong that she even prefers to hide the fact that she is about to die, just because she doesn't want to take away her husband's smile.

Yong-gi takes some detours to show his love. Although he knows of his wife's illness, he pretends to have no clue, yet reads much about medicine and brings vitamins back home for his wife that he claims to be his payment for his performance in a club. Furthermore, he is the one behind the scenes pulling the strings so that an old friend of Jung-Yeon visits her after several years. Additionally, he manages that his parents finally accept her and make their peace with her. The scene in which a photo is taken of Jung-Yeon, her husband and his parents is very impressive and moving. It's those moments, that make this movie so worthwhile and moreover work without having to make use of any kitsch.

Lee Yeong-ae ("One Fine Spring Day", "JSA") proves that she even looks beautiful when playing a housewife. Apart from that she also gives a fine performance. Her character is uncommunicative, cold on the outside, but on the inside she is warm-hearted and loveable, only wanting the best for her husband. This selflessness and modesty of her almost force us to like her and suffer with her.
Lee Jung-Jae ("Il Mare") can also be convincing in his role, even if his performance at times might feel a bit wooden and at others a bit excessive. However, most of the time he shines as the caring husband who knows how to hide his true self very well. It's just that the comedy scenes won't suit him...
Aside from the two main actors, the movie's strong points are also its great supporting actors. For example there is Kong Hyeong-jin as Yong-gi's comedy partner, who only gets a raw deal in the film, yet knows how to make use of his little on-screen time. It's the same with Jung-Yeon's parents-in-law, her friend Ae-suk or the two cheaters who are responsible for the movie's comedy part. These vivacious characters can really add to the drama's credibility.

Director Oh Ki-hwan, despite the predictability of the plot and the well-known ingredients, succeeds in creating a touching drama. Sometimes a few scenes might feel a bit overdrawn, but most of the time the emotions remain in the boundaries of credibility.
The comedy parts doesn't blend in well with the rest of the movie, but this proves to be not that troublesome. However, the movie doesn't try to take itself too serious, or at least that's what you might think when Yong-gi plays his life on stage in a very comedian-like and theatrically manner, while his wife is among the audience, dying while she watches the show. There are some undeniable parallels between Yong-gi's play and the movie itself.
Unfortunately, "Last Present" has to struggle with the fact that its running time is just too long. Some emotional scenes are somewhat overdone, yet the movie can gain some points with its flashbacks into the childhood of the two main protagonists, because these moments give the film an addional level of narration.

Despite of some flaws, "Last Present" manages that you will suffer alongside with the protagonists. At some points the border of bearable is trespassed and you almost wish that Jung-Yeon would finally find her peace in death. However, the last pictures of the movie are very appeasing, conciliatory and are imbued with a certain kind of beauty.
As already mentioned "Last Present" isn't perfect and way too often you can't fight the feeling that the director deliberatively plays with the viewer's emotions, which gives the film something artificial. Nonetheless, at some points you might not be able to fight back the tears.
A surprisingly well working melodrama that surely will find its fans.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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