Happy End (1999) Movie Review

In this day and age, only a fool would cheat on her/his husband/wife after seeing so many movies where the offender lived (or in some cases, doesn’t live) to regret his/her indiscretion. According to every movie involving unfaithful spouses that I have seen, cheating is a good way to get killed; or in the case of comedies, get thrown into some form of sticky food substance and be laughed at.

“Happy End” is about Bora (Do-yeon Jeon), a successful career woman who becomes involved with her destructive ex-lover, Kim. Bora’s home life is a snore: she’s mother to an infant child and her husband, Seo (Min-sik Choi) has lost his job, leaving Bora as the family’s sole breadwinner. It’s unclear if Bora is with Kim just for the sex or for the passion, both of which Seo seems incapable of giving. But it seems the jobless Seo hasn’t been just wandering around parks and reading romance novels as first thought; he knows something is going on, and he’s collecting evidence…

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that my lack of interest in the film doesn’t mean that “Happy End” isn’t a good movie, it’s just that I have little interest in the subject matter. (This may explain why this copy of “Happy End” has been in my possession for 5 months before I finally took a look at it.) That said, “Happy End” is one of the better movies on the subject at hand. The characters are very well thought out, and even Kim is well realized. The actors do good jobs convincing us and making us care about them. Even the cheating Bora and the troubled Kim are worth sympathizing with because the film never treats them as bad people. They are what they are and nothing more.

Min-sik Choi (“Failan”) gives another good performance as the wronged husband. Choi’s Seo has been emasculated by his inability to find a job and director Chung hammers this point home with a brief montage showing Seo grocery shopping, cooking, and doing the laundry. These are all very feminine jobs, particularly in very patriarchal South Korea. Most interesting is that Seo seems content to live with the cheating Bora, very much aware of his own shortcomings, which leaves him willing to be wronged. This is, in fact, what most wronged wife feels when her husband cheats on her.

It’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t treat its three main characters as despicable human beings. They are all very much human in every way that matters. As a result of all of these humanly needs and wants, Bora is unable to stop going back to Kim even though she seems physically and emotionally damaged by their continued affair. Kim has realized that he is hooked on her, and is very aware of his (jealously-driven) actions toward her and her family. Without each other, they have no passion in their life, and so they must keep going back to each other.

Although “Happy End” ends rather, well, unhappily (which you might have already guessed by the movie’s poster), the film is not altogether downbeat. Director Ji Woo Chung has taken the role of observer, using mostly handheld cameras to capture the events in the lives of his 3 main subjects. The film is sexually explicit, and there is one scene of brutal violence that, although isn’t completely unexpected, is still shocking to see.

For anyone interested in the subject, “Happy End” is a good addition to the genre. It is certainly a terrific testimonial against infidelity, that’s for sure.

Ji Woo Chung (director)
CAST: Min-sik Choi …. Seo, Ki Min
Do-yeon Jeon …. Choi, Bora
Jin-mo Ju

Buy Happy End on DVD