Seoul-based playboy Young-Soo learns that he is suffering from liver cirrhosis and finds his life quickly getting worse. Seeking rest and recuperation, Young-Soo admits himself to a countryside clinic. Here he meets Eun-Hee, whom is suffering from a severe lung disease. Smitten with Young-Soo, Eun-Hee starts to approach the new resident. They fall in love with one another and take up living together in a small house. With no money and suffering from severe illnesses, just how happy can they become and how long will it last?Written by
Paul M. Haakonsen
Eun-hee... They say you're fine.
I'm happy with you by my side. Were you worried? About me dying?
No, about ME dying. Seeing you in pain almost killed me.
I used to get scared of dying when I got sick. Now that I have you... I'm not scared anymore. Be by my side when I die.
Don't say such a thing.
Fine, you be by my side when I die, too.
Promise me. It's official. Eun-hee...
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Films about the gravely ill tend not to contain many surprises. And when they are not terribly sentimental, trying to wring every possible tear out of the audience, they are far too joyous and upbeat—two equally dishonest and exploitative strategies. I dare say that Happiness (Hængbok) not only espouses milder variations of such emotions but also manages to conflate them in surprising ways. It certainly helps to have someone like Hur Jin-ho at the helm, a director known for quiet, tasteful melodramas such as Christmas in August (1998) and April Snow (2005). Similar to those two films, the overarching plot of Happiness is fairly ordinary—after being diagnosed with Cirrhosis, a hard-living, hard-drinking Seoulite retreats to a sanatorium in the countryside, where he meets a gentle, mild-mannered young woman, a resident patient, who is suffering from a severe respiratory disease, and, as you may have already guessed, the two fall in love—but, once again, Hur's treatment of the material, despite not straying too far from convention, renders it truthful and affecting. He possesses an innate sense of rhythm, a knack for shaping dramatic situations, a sensitivity for unusual relationships. He also has a keen eye for composition and color. And he knows how to draw good, understated performances from extremely popular stars, as he has done here with Hwang Jung-min and Lim Soo-jung. Hur, who, as usual, also co-wrote the film, has imbued his characters with greater complexity this time around, which, in turn, has only added more depth and texture to the narrative.
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