Failan (2001) Review

"Failan" Korean DVD Cover

"Failan" Korean DVD Cover

Director: Song Hae-Seong
Producer: Song Hae-Seong
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi.
Running Time: 116 min.

By Klotera

This is a very unique film. At a very general level, one would call it a drama. But, it is more like a character based gangster film put together with a romance film that has no romance. Yes, it sounds strange, but it really works. Let me break it down:

Choi Min Sik plays a gangster, Kang-jae, but he has kind of just fallen into that place by being lifelong friends with the gang’s leader. He is angry, aggressive, and violent – but sucks at all the gangster stuff and has earned a bad reputation within his gang for it. After a drunken fight that turns deadly, the gang’s leader suddenly appreciates him again…. because he wants him to take the fall. But, Kang-jae soon gets news that his wife, Failan, has died and he must travel to make final arrangements about her death.

Failan (Cecilia Cheung) had come to Korea to live with family there. She finds out they are no longer there, but cannot go back to China because she has no family there anymore. She has no one and is a stranger in a foreign land. In order to stay, a “convenience” marriage is a arranged and Kang-jae is the one she marries. Of course, this is a business arrangement and she will have to work off the money that a sponsor has put up. She cannot work as a girl in his club, though, because she is very sickly so she goes to work in a small village doing laundry. She never meets her husband and falls sicker with the disease.

The film takes its time to set up Kang-jae’s character and then follows his travels to make arrangements after Failan’s death. It is on this journey that he learns about her short life in Korea.

The film does an interesting job of showing us how he learns about Failan. Through her letters and the stories of others, he learns about a young woman who has made life for herself in a foreign country and appreciates everything she has. Despite his greedy reasons for marrying her, she still says he is the sweetest of all – because he married her. We see this irritable, hard nosed character learn the value of appreciating things in life that many take for granted and begin to develop feelings for this woman he never met during her life. This changes him and to see how these discoveries change him in such a short time is what makes the movie so interesting.

The film is very well done in most respects. Due to the strange nature of the story and the slow pace of the film (particularly, the long amount of time devoted to developing Kang-jae in the beginning), some viewers may be turned off. But, I believe the pay-off is worth the patience. Despite the slow pace, the development is necessary to the impact of the film. All the acting is very good, particularly Cecilia, who does very well as the young woman in a strange land with basically no one. When she spends her first night at her job and begins crying, it hurts.

Overall, this film is definitely a recommended viewing, as it really does show a unique story that has some real character and emotion to it. If you are looking for a traditional tear-jerker romance movie, this is definitely not it. Have some patience with it and you’ll find a great story of a young woman who appreciates even the smallest things and a hard-nosed gangster who learns from that.

Klotera’s Rating: 8.5/10

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