Sad Movie (Saedeu mubi)
Korea (2005) Dir. Kwon Jong-kwan
If only all films were this honest and direct with their titles. Can you imagine how many hours of our lives we could have saved if films were called “Predictable Soppy Romance”, “Overlong Pretentious Guff” or “Michael Bay’s Latest”?
Delivering exactly what it says on the tin, this film revolves around the very different relationships of eight very different people, all of whom have one thing in common – the inability to communicate with their loved ones. This is especially ironic for one of the principals, unemployed Jung Ha-Suk (Cha Tae-Hyun) whose girlfriend of three years Choi Suk-Hyun (Son Tae-Young) wants to break up with him.
The irony is that as a result of her insistence he find work, Ha-Suk inadvertently stumbles upon the idea to begin an agency delivering break-up messages for people who can’t face their partners. Meanwhile Ahn Soo-Jung (Lim Soo-Jung), a TV sign language translator is waiting for her firefighter boyfriend Lee Jin-Woo (Jung Woo-Sung) to propose, worried his dangerous job will ruin their lives, while Jin-Woo is just waiting or the right time.
Soo-Jung’s deaf sister Ahn Soo-Eun (Shin Min-Ah) works as a theme park mascot where she falls for an artist Sang-Gyu (Lee Ki-Woo) but remains hidden behind her costume to hide her impairment and the scar on her face. Finally, Uhm Joo-Young (Yum Jung-Ah) is a woman too busy to spend time with her young son Park Hee-Chan (Yeo Jin-Goo) until she is stricken with cancer, and realises the little time she has left with him.
That’s a few story strands to follow and many faces to remember, which isn’t so easy at first as some of the cast are similar in appearance to the novice viewer. But each individual case makes this a lot easier as the film progresses and the characters become more established to the audience.
As the title suggests a happy ending is not on the cards for anyone which is quite the spoiler if you think about, but by the same token it does pique the interest in the yarns it has to spin and how they reach the suggested tragic conclusions we have been teased into expecting. And it has to be said, Kwon Jong-kwan does a convincing job in keeping us glued to the screen for the 100 plus minute duration.
For the most part this is a light hearted affair with the odd splash of drama, serving to acclimatise us to this breezy world with the odd road bump before whipping the rug from under our feet when everything starts to come crashing down – this applies to the characters too.
It is a testament to Kwon that he has managed to cultivate four ideas and bring them to completion inside one sitting when each plot is worthy of being a film in their own right. Like many portmanteau projects there is often one part that resonates more than the others do and further exploration would be welcome. Sad Movie is no different.
For this writer, the tale of Soo-Eun and Sang-Gyu is the cutest, due to the charming physical performance of Shin Min-Ah under the costume as a rag doll figure purported to be Snow White (the Seven Dwarfs look like angry Pokémon). With her large head boasting a perpetual smile under a pair of big eyes, Soo-Eun dances joyfully round the park, turning on the charm when Sang-Gyu is around.
It is the whimsy of this often dialogue free scenario that endears us to Soo-Eun and her plight, while we can’t fail to be hope for the best as Sang-Gyu becomes smitten by this playful figure, imaging what she looks like without the costume or what she sounds like. One near miss sees Sang-Gyu board a bus with Soo-Eun already on it but of course he doesn’t know while she does.
Countering the sweetness of Soo-Eun’s story is the paranoia of sister Soo-Jung who frets constantly whenever she hears a siren, always fearing the worst when Jin-Woo is on a call. It might seem silly but there must be many a wife or husband out there who worries that their other half won’t come back from a call and Kwon captures that feeling through Soo-Jung’s constant on edge behaviour despite Jin-Woo’s reassurances.
By comparison, the relationship between Joo-Young and Hee-Chan is the most oblique, because it is the least featured therefore requires greater expansion. Joo-Young thinks her son is playing up and gets mad at him but it is a classic plea for attention. When Hee-Chan finds his mother’s diaries at home, he tries to copy her mindset to calm her while she is in hospital, which works until he takes one entry a bit too literally. By virtue of its content this is the hardest one to watch but is also quite uplifting in places.
As mentioned earlier Ha-Suk’s role in the film is the most ironic, not just because of the outcome of his tale but also as it allows him to be the only character to cross over into another situation. His break-up agency is posited as the comic relief, usually when someone takes the news badly and takes it out on Ha-Suk, but Suk-Hyun is still tiring of his immature attitude regardless of the success of his new venture.
For seasoned Korean film fans the cast list is a veritable Who’s Who of the early millennium in K-Cinema and nobody lets themselves or director Kwon down. By keeping everything separate there is no sense of ego or scene stealing from these name actors which makes for a balanced end product performance wise.
Usually a multi-faceted project like this is hard to maintain any semblance of consistency but Kwon manages this with Sad Movie, and while it deliberately and unashamedly goes for the heartstrings, there is no escaping the effects of the raw, gut wrenching emotion it plays upon in the final act.
Sad Movie = great movie!