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Moving character study of addiction, mortality and even the nature of happiness
Happiness, director Hur Jin Ho's fourth feature find the director returning back to his melodramatic roots, exploring characters suffering from chronic and/or terminal illness. What's so fascinating about Hur is his ability to draw you into his carefully studied characters and avoid the pitfalls of melodrama by deft restraint.
In this case, we begin with the hard-partying fast-life Youngsu, whose heavy drinking alcoholism put his bar in bankruptcy and his liver in cirrhosis. Having lost almost everything to his lifestyle, he departs for a hospice-like community in the countryside to see if he can at least save his life. The battle is hard, but he meets the attractive and shy Eun-hee who immediately takes to his charm. Eunhee herself suffers from a lung-disease, but is a good-hearted girl. Eventually, they come together, but as Eunhee helps Young-su recover from his cirrhosis, he meets some old friends that remind him of his previous wild lifestyle and invite him to return. And with a title like Happiness, you know this can't end well.
Hur again draws some impressive performances from his players, provides some amazing photography and really shows his amazing capacity for drawing believable relationships, both in infancy and demise. Furthermore, the subtlety by which he draws the temptations of Young-su's vices are quite impressive. The presence of a mobile phone, a gift from his ex-girlfriend, how he takes up his old vices by the invitation of a farmer and how he is tempted at first to leave from his regimented healthy lifestyle by purchasing "medicinal liquor" all point to the life that he can't leave behind no matter how hard he wishes he could.
This is not an obvious film. It provides a study of addiction, mortality as well as, yes, happiness, but leaves a lot of the interpretation up to the viewer. But this masterful look at two characters, despite the melodramatic backdrop and the ass of a protagonist, is so well drawn that you still can't help but find pathos there. While some viewers might be tempted to label Lim Soo Jung's Eunhee (again playing a possibly terminally ill young woman after her turn in ...ing) a cardboard "pure" character, like I did at first, upon further thought it's possible to see her faults as well and so, I continue to be impressed by director Hur's projects. Gorgeous music, photography, acting, direction. Recommended, except for those that don't like those stories that could be entitled Happiness. 9/10.
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