FAILAN. 2001

Director: Hae-sung Song

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

A slow-witted bully of a gangster (Min-sik Choi), with a suppressed potential for sensitivity, has gotten out of jail after ten years. He served time for his Korean mob gang & expected to return with a lot of respect. But he's been so long away that his former underlings have all surpassed him, & he's treated hardly better than a dog underfoot.

Then one day police knock on his door to report to him that his wife Failan (Cecilia Cheung) has died & he must travel to a small town to tend to her remaining affairs. This loser gangster was married?

In the first of a series of flashbacks to a decade before, we see him providing paperwork for a marriage to a young Chinese girl, the titular character Failan (2001), who has come to Korea looking for her parents, but cannot live & work in Korea unless she can qualify for a visa. Marriage to a Korean is a short-cut to permanent residency.

It's arranged without either of them having to meet each other, though she's given a photograph of her new husband, & he takes one glimpse at her when he shows up to be paid. This indebts her to the Korean mob who attempt to sell her viriginity, but when she coughs up blood, they realize they've got an unsalable product. The fall-back plan is to indenture her to a laundry, where she works hard.

She got lucky in that the woman who runs the laundry likes her & treats her well enough, but unlucky since she'll never ever make sufficient money to clear her debt with the gangsters.

Overwhelmed with loneliness, she frames her "husband's" picture to keep in her tiny room. She builds up a fantasy of his kindness toward her, & falls in love with her own dream. Somehow (not at all convincingly) this dream infects Kang, her "husband," after she is dead.

The two main characters, separated by time & distance, are the extreme cliche ultra-bad-boy hiding his self hate, & the lonely tragic saint of an orphaned young woman with a lung disease. They're caricatures, far too artificial, especially the girl who is indistinguishable from a hurt child or abused puppy.

For many viewers this is a three-hanky weeper. I found it too dishonest, artificial & manipulative to have such an effect. Failan is a paper-thin character who acts more like a suffering child or puppy than an adult woman, & her submissive sweetness made her seem more masochistic than sympathetic. Kang is more elaborately played because he has at least two levels of character, but his character didn't come alive for me until the garret appeared at the end.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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