January 1, 2020

Failan: Long Distance Lovers

As love stories go, writer-director Song Hye-seong's Failan is a strange one. The two characters never truly meet — she's an illegal alien who needs a husband so she can stay in the country; he's a small time hood who signs the necessary documents. They see each other in the flesh a few times in passing: first, at the Hope Employment Agency; next, when he's being taken away by the cops for selling porn to minors; and a third time at the morgue if you can count that. But mainly their relationship is one projection. She's got a framed photo of him propped up in the room where she lives while working as a laundress. He gets a few flattering letters from her that cause him to re-evaluate his own low self-esteem. Would they have been a happy couple if they'd actually paired off? That seems doubtful. But that isn't the point of Failan which seems to be saying something about the impact of the positive things we do in life, even if they're accidental.

To imagine a better life for Kang-jae (Choi Min-sik) is to imagine a completely different person than the pathetic thug we meet, a man who pulls rank on teenagers at a video arcade and ingratiates himself to the belittling mob boss who used to be a close friend. As for his wife-in-name-only Failan (Cecilia Cheung), the moment she coughs up blood (which is pretty early on), we know that she's doomed. That she's able to salvage a few happy years by grape-stomping dirty clothes and cycling around a village to drum up business feels like a small miracle. Hey, the small miracle is the best that most of us get if we're lucky. If you can make one happen for someone else, please don't hesitate. Cast your spell.

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