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Original Title:
Urideul-ui haengbok-han shigan

South Korea 2006


Song Hae-sung

Lee Na-yeong
Kang Dong-won
Kang Shin-il
Yoon Yeo-jeong
Kim Ji-yeong
Jeong Yeong-sook
Jang Hyeon-seong
Jeong In-gi
Eun Won-jae
Jeong Jin
Choi Yong-min
Kim Jin-hyeok
Oh Kwang-rok
Kim Boo-seon
Oh Jeong-se
Lee Jae-goo
Choi Jeong-woo
Nah Gi-soo
Sin Yeong-jin

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Maundy Thursday

aka Our Happy Time

Story: Moon Yu-jung (Lee Na-yeong) is a young female professor of a rich family, who feels miserable. After Yu-jung's third suicide attempt, her aunt, a nun, takes her with her into prison, where Yu-jung is supposed to watch the nun doing her work and find a new way of how to think about her life. Nobody seems to understand that Yu-jung is tired of life, because of a traumatic experience she had when she was 15 years old. An experience that still haunts her.
In prison she meets the murderer Jung Yun-su (Kang Dong-won), who has no interest in religion and doesn't want to see the nun either. He prefers to count the days before his execution, as he is on death row. However, Yu-jung slowly starts to be interested in this man, and she learns that he is plagued by the same loneliness and disappointment in life as she is. She is also a hurt soul who finds no happniness in life, which is something that surprises Yun-su, because being grown up as an orphan he thought that rich people are always happy.
Slowly, the two start to open up and build a common basis for mutual understanding, which changes into some kind of love. However, the two haven't much time left...

Review: A few years ago director Song Hae-sung impressed with a very moving and unusual drama called "Failan". His film "Rikidozan" also has been highly praised by critics. His latest work is "Maundy Thursday" and doesn't deviate much from what we expect of Song and what we already know of him. We are presented with an unusual love story, which is disguised as a tearjerker drama, yet manages to be surprisingly profound if you look beneath the surface. Moreover, Song once again manages, besides all the tears, to bestow something beautiful and wonderful upon his movie, which is quite rewarding for the viewer. There is something that will make your heart feel all warm and fuzzy, while it also gives us hope. There aren't many directors we can pull this off, but Song certainly is one of them. His recipe for success is putting much weight on the characters and the small details on screen. Fortunately, he is supported by a great cast, which manages to make the emotional scenes stand out with convincing naturalness. The movie doesn't reach the level of a masterpiece, but "Maundy Thursday" still proves to be a very nice and touching film.

Song's movie is based on a novel by Kong Ji-young and centers around a prison inmate on death row, who slowly learns what it means to be happy in life. However, oftentimes it's Lee Na-young's performance that outshines Yun-su and makes her story around loneliness, disappointment and a childhood trauma come to the fore. Her numerous suicide attempts and her hatred towards her mother leave no doubt that something must have happened in her past, which made her the inconsolable human being she is. Nonetheless, it takes a while until we get all the answers we are waiting for.
One of the movie's strength is, that the director never tries to make one of the protagonists an individual to relate to. Yu-jung and her cold, life-negating behavior erect an emotional wall at first. No need to mention, that it's not possible to weave an emotional bond to Yun-su, a convicted murderer and rapist, either. Nevertheless, we are fascinated by these two individuals. Why does Yun-su want to die that bad? What is this man thinking, and why has Yu-jung so much interest in him, even though she admits towards him, that she is afraid of him?

"Maundy Thursday" approaches the characters' development and the unfolding of the events on screen slowly and crebibly. At first Yun-su is simply impressed that Yu-jung is so open and honest towards him, even if this means that she isn't always polite. But why should she? Yun-su is a murderer on death row in the first place. However, slowly the ice between them begins to melt, and we get to know about their background, so that somewhere throughout, we actually start to develop sympathies for them in a very subtle way. Of course nothing proves to be as easy as it may seem at first, and there is a reason for their behavior, which is why director Song makes strong use of often inserted flashbacks, in which he draws a more profound picture of the characters. The writer of the story also made a good choice not to completely revise Yun-su's crime by simply letting us know about his innocence, because even though we find out about the real circumstances of the murder later on, there still remains blood on Yun-su's hands. Nonetheless, this doesn't change the fact, that we learn to have sympathy for him and the situation he is in.

Apart from the slowly commencing love story, which thankfully never really feels like a typical love story between man and woman, but instead is based on mutual understanding and shared pain, there is also a much more deeper level to be found. Guilt and reconcilation also play a major part in this drama, and are implemented by the tools of christian religion. And even though Yun-su eventually finds his way to religion, the director fortunately also manages to refrain from working in unnecessary religious or preaching elements. Instead, christianity merely serves as an additional tool to bring out the best of human character traits, which, after a closer look, are to be found within in the protagonists, as well.

Kang Dong-won ("Too Beautiful to lie") gives a neat performance as the prison inmate, of whom we never believe we can develop feelings of sympathies for. This is mainly because of his violent behavior we are witnessing at the beginning. Yet, the changing of his, or rather Yu-jung's efforts to learn more about his true nature, make us relate and even suffer along with him, eventually. Nonetheless, the movie's true star is Lee Na-young, who didn't just give a nice portrayal in "Please teach me English", but who most of all could shine with great acting talent in "Someone Special". In "Maundy Thursday" she leaves no doubt that she is a very fine actress, which she underlines especially well in the more emotional scenes.
Furthermore, there are also some pretty good efforts from the supporting cast, which involves Kang Shin-il as a likeable officer with a big heart, or Oh Kwang-rok ("Oldboy") as a cell mate, who takes comfort in christian religion and even serves Yun-su as some sort of buttress to rely on.

From a technical point of view, there isn't anything to criticize. There are some nice pictures of snowy landscapes and a warm soundtrack, which always manages to capture the right mood.
In the end, the film naturally has to head towards a finale in which Yun-su is about to be executed. Director Song doesn't miss to put the necessity of death penalty into question, but he does this in a welcome subtle and reserved way. The ending itself, nonetheless, brings out all the heavy artillery a drama has in stock. Sadly, this also means that Song is always one inch away from what might have become quite cheesy. In the end, the tearjerker part remains tolerable, but there is still a bitter aftertaste. Even the more as the ending is also quite predictable.
"Maundy Thursday" lacks a bit of the intensity, that made "Failan" so special. But there is still some magic to be found in this drama, which gets the more apparent when the credits roll over the screen. We are deeply saddened, and yet there is this sparkle of hope, reconcilation and life-affirming love, which can create a warm fuzzy feeling within us. This is what makes "Maundy Thursday" stand as a very nice movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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