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Failan (2001)

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Starring:

-Choi Min Sik
-Cecilia Cheung

Synopsis:

(Warning: Some consider part of this a spoiler, although being part of the premise - I do not consider it a spoiler).

Kangjae (Choi) is a hot-headed, unrespected member of a local gang. After his boss and long time friend kills someone, he asks Kangjae to take the fall for him - promising to help him buy a fishing boat to settle down with after he gets out, as he had always wanted. Just before he is ready to go in, he finds out that his wife, Kang Failan (Cheung), has died. She had come to Korea to find family, who had all gone. He had married her as part of an under-the-table business arrangement so she could stay in the country and work. He must go and make arrangements after her death, but finds out much about her life, and about himself, along the way.

Review:

Failan is a very unique drama. It has got its share of the Korean gangster lifestyle (and not in a glamorized fashion) and many standard drama elements. But, at its heart is somewhat of a romance without any romance, as strange as it sounds. We see two people who never really meet develop feelings for each other, as it in some way affects their own lives.

It's fair warning to let people know that this is a very slow moving film. This is necessarily so, though, to properly develop the characters, who are the heart of the film. The film takes plenty of time in the beginning to set up Kangjae's character and the lifestyle he leads, particularly his relationship with his gang. He is a angry-tempered at many, while seemingly helpless with his boss. He is considered useless to most of his fellow gang members. Yet, this is all portrayed at such a raw level that we can feel that there is something more inside him. As discussion of going into prison for his boss comes up, we start to hear more of his aspirations and such and feel him as more of a real person.

After significant time is developed to Kangjae's developement, we finally dive into Failan's life. Through flashbacks, we see her story as a newcomer in Korean with no one close. She must do what she has to survive, but is obviously struggling without anyone close. It is interesting to see her form an emotional bond with her convenience husband as a way to help her through this.

As Kangjae goes through his travels and learns more about Failan's life, he starts to open up. Between this and the reality of what he is about to do for his boss, he starts to see what is important in his life. The dynamic aspect of Kangjae's character and how all of this brings this about is what the true heart of this film is, and where its brilliance lies. After such lengthy introduction to his character early in the film, we appreciate the changes in his character even more.

The film takes a very raw, realistic approach to everything. The characters are real, the locations are real. Nothing is glamorized. Gangster life is not made out to be like it is in many action films. Locations are left as dirty or harsh as necessary. The actors even seem to be wearing little to no make-up. All of this contributes to the reality of the story and makes it even better for a viewer to associate with. Choi and Cheung both also put in amazing performances that push this even further and bring the characters to life.

This movie probably isn't for everyone, as it is a very slow-moving drama and I understand that there are people that have trouble with such a pace. But, I do believe that it is worth the patience and the end payoff is more than you could ask for. I love my comedies and action films. But, I appreciate a good drama, though I'm a lot pickier about the dramas I sit down with. This one really hits where it counts and deserves a place on any Asian film fan's DVD rack.

Director:

-Song Hae-sung

Language/Cuts:

-Original Korean language.

Grade:

A-

Pictures: