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Original Title:

South Korea 2005

Drama, Romance

Kang Yi-kwa

Moon So-ri
Kim Tae-woo
Lee Seon-gyun
Joo Jin-mo
Kim Hyun-ju
Kang Rae-yeon

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Story: Hyun-jung (Moon So-ri) is engaged with her boyfriend Min-suk (Lee Seon-gyun) for a while already. Her parents are pushing her to finally consider a marriage. At the same time shy office-worker Sang-hoon (Kim Tae-woo), working in the same building as Hyun-jung, approaches the girl and wants to get to know her better, but the girl turns him away since she is already engaged with someone. However, out of the blue her boyfriend ends their relationship, leaving her in a wounded and lonely state. She then agrees to have a few dates with Sang-hoon, and even though the first dates don't really go that well, the two eventually become a couple. After their marriage, Sang-hoon is transfered into another town for 6 months by his company, though. The married couple doesn't get to see each other that often anymore until Hyun-jung finds out that she is pregnant. She quits her job and moves into Sang-hoon's house. But there are lies and mistakes made in their relationship. The couple seems to be drifting apart...

Review: "Sa-kwa" is an interesting and honest film. This also becomes apparent in the title, because the international audience isn't treated with an English title, which is quite unusual. Reason for that is most likely that the ambiguousness of the title was meant to be preserved, which can mean "apple" or "apology". "Apple" because the movie also has its slightly religious moments, pointing to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge with this fruit. Knowledge is also something the protagonists gain throughout the film en masse and it's not wrong to say that this is also the reason why they are banned from paradise, eventually. Yet, there is still the possibility of apologizing. And that's not something just one of the characters has to do, but several, because "Sa-kwa" is strongly sticking to real life and its problems. Therefore, there isn't just one sole person responsible for the drama that unfolds in the relationship depicted.

Granted, even if you might have to do quite some interpretation attempts in order to approach the one about the meaning of the apple, the rest of the film is very realistic and very natural in a welcome manner. Hyun-jung is serving as the actual protagonist of the movie. We get some insight into a large period of her life and how her at first glance perfect relationship shatters to pieces without any prior notice. But Sang-hoon is waiting to take the place of Hyun-jung's boyfriend for a while already. The first couple of dates are somewhat cold and it seems that there isn't any common interest connecting these two. Hyun-jung even verbalizes this very fact and doesn't want any future dates, but somehow they still meet again and who would have thought: they even marry, in the end. This all seems to happen a little bit too sudden, but the pressure of Hyun-jung's mother who wants to see her daughter finally getting married does its part to lead Hyun-jung to her decision. Interestingly enough everything works out fine and the new-baked wife even learns to love her husband after their marriage.

The first half of the film is quite entertaining. Surprisingly, there are even some really funny scenes the way you wouldn't expect it from such a movie, mainly thanks to the fantastic character drawings of Hyun-jung's family. During the second half you won't see much of those scenes anymore. Sadly, this also brings into play some problems concerning the pacing, as there is spent too much time on individual scenes. We get to know that Hyun-jung and her ex-boyfriend, whom she runs into again later on, made some almost typical mistakes in their first romantic relationship, but that Sang-hoon and Hyun-jung have some even bigger problems, now. A lie on the part of Sang-hoon hurts Hyun-jung's feelings a lot and to make things even more complicated she is pregnant. The two share a certain responsibility now, too. Yet, both of them often feel lonely despite the partner being right beside them, leading them to make mistakes over and over again, mistakes that are just in the nature of humans.

It's tiresome to discuss who is at fault for the relationship between Sang-hoon and Hyun-jung to slowly, but certainly fall to pieces, it simply remains a fact. However, it's not too late for apologies as the two know best. But if that's enough to save their relationship is another story. Still, it is safe to say that "Sa-kwa" works so well, because it carefully works on the level of real life problems. The situations rendered here aren't highly artificial, but are of the kind you actually experience. This doesn't make them less complex, on the contrary, and this is just where the origin of the movie's strength lies.
Moreover, you are presented with a pure untempered picture of Korea in "Sa-kwa". You get some insight into the culture, the marriage ideology of mothers concerning their daughters, the relationship between siblings, religion and tradition, and all of that might be something you might have already seen in other movies as well, but here there is something genuinely Korean about it.

Technically, the at times shaky hand camera can be quite irritating every now and then, the rest is executed quite well, though. Especially, the jump cuts into the future and the development of the characters are integrated into the movie with a steady hand, so that the film never feels as if being torn up, instead everything is working as a smooth whole.
Special kudos go to Moon So-ri ("Oasis", "Forever the Moment", "The Four Gods") who plays the main character in an enormously authentic and charismatic fashion. She is supported by Kim Tae-woo ("Bus Stop", "Return"), whose portrayal is a lot more reserved, but not necessarily worse than hers. Which brings up the question why it took three years until the movie finally hit the cinemas and was released on DVD? Fact is, that "Sa-kwa" stands as an interesting drama, the way only real life can write it. Without artificial tricks, nonetheless complex in its core. More than anything else, the ambivalent ending manages to impress. A small insiders' tip for drama fans.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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