n 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.