Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy End

Regular readers might know that I generally am not very fond of what I've called a pity movie. They generally get a special amount of bile from me, and each one I'm subjected to gets a new and unique rant about how they're the scourge of cinema, and acclaimed quite wrongly. So, you might be surprised to know that I've found one I don't hate. In fact, Happy End isn't all that bad at all. How did a movie about miserable people manage to keep me from unleashing all my hatred?

Was it the story? Here, we have a career minded woman named Bora (Do-yeon Jeon), who apart from being career minded is also having quite explicit sex with shaggy website developer who shares my sense of style Il-beom (Jin-mo Jeu). She isn't finding her way to his bed just because of the raw animal magnetism inherent in a love of checked shirts and hair that's slightly too long, it's also her way of getting away from her sad sack husband Ki-min, who is played by the generally excellent Choi Min-suk, who takes care of their infant daughter when he isn't hanging out in the used book store. As inevitably happens, things go badly for everyone involved, and the title becomes ironic as one might expect.

By the numbers, I should hate it. Everyone's depressed because they're stupid, and it all leads to a deadpan misery throughout. It's also slightly misogynistic, which can be very annoying the more that you think of it. But, somehow, it actually works quite well, perhaps simply because it doesn't judge the characters.

Here's the thing, everyone in the film does awful things. This causes themselves and others a great deal of misery, and makes them wander around moping all the time. But, that said, they aren't viewed as awful or overtly sympathetic. There are no heroes or villains, just people, good and bad wrapped into one person.

There's also no unseen force in the screenplay making everyone unhappy just for the sake of it. Too often everyone in this type of movie is punished constantly for just daring to try to be better than they are. The people here merely face consequences of their actions, even if the consequences can sometimes be a bit overdone. It's just three people, caught in a love triangle and dealing with the emotions inherent.

I'm going to admit I don't love it, but I don't hate it, and can respect it from a distance and recognize that it's a fine example of its breed. The lesson here is that it's possible to make a film about miserable people being miserable. The trick is, you have to actually make them people apart from their misery. In spite of their many faults, the characters of Happy End are people, for better or - in this case - for worse.

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