Based on Jiro Asada's novel "Love Letter", "Failan" unfolds in two axes.
Kang-jae is a pathetic individual, a low-grade criminal of a minor organization, who has seen his childhood friend, Kyeong-soo becoming the leader of the gang, while he was merely endowed with a small video shop for his contributions to organized crime. The new members of the syndicate do not respect him, and his shop barely makes enough for him to live. If that was not enough, when his boss kills a member of another gang in a fit of rage, he suggests that Kang-jae takes the blame, which will leave him for about ten years in prison. Kang-jae reluctantly agrees.
Failan arrives in Korea after the death of her parents. However, the aunt she was supposed to live with has left the country. All alone, she tries to find work, but before this, she must first acquire an extended residence permit. To do that, she has to get married and Kang-jae is the one who agrees to a sham marriage, without having seen her even once, in order to earn some extra money and for her to get her permit. The two of them never actually meet, as she embarks on a trip of finding work, but a red scarf and letter eventually change the way they perceive each other.
Song Hae-seong directs a romantic film, which is quite unusual for two reasons. The first one is that the two axes have nothing to do with each other, since the first one is a violent, gangster film with some comic notions, and the second a heartbreak melodrama. Furthermore, these two axes do not eventually co-exist , as is usually the case in similar films, but instead follow their separate ways, with the exception of a few, brief scenes.
The second reason is that the romance implied never actually materializes, since the protagonists almost never meet and neither one is actually aware of the other's existence, until one of them dies.
In that fashion, the film is quite melancholic, with Song Hae-seong focusing as much on the romance as on loneliness, yearning, and hope. The biggest asset of his direction is the narration, which is presented in an easy-to-understand way, despite the flashbacks and the complexity of the story. The melodramatic element could not be missing, and actually becomes a bit tedious, at some points.
Kim Yeong-cheol-I's cinematography is quite good, as he portrays the rural setting of a small town and the cruel, urban environment of the city. Park Kok-ji's editing retains the pace, which drops much during the middle of the film, and keeps the various flashbacks from becoming confusing. The scene where one of them dies, however, is abrupt to the point of fault.
Choi Min-sik gives another great performance as Kang-jae, with his amplitude in different roles becoming evident from the first three scenes, where he portrays a bully gangster, a bullied subordinate, and a friend, with equal competence.
Gorgeous Cecilia Cheung in the titular role is also quite good in portraying a naive but determined woman, who almost never actually manages to get a break.
"Failan" feeatures an original and well-presented mixture of gangster film and romantic melodrama, although the fact that the last element is the one that eventually takes over, deprive it of becoming a masterpiece.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "Failan""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads from the website (not for episode and movie videos) for US$0.99 monthly or US$7.99 yearly (you can cancel anytime). The first step is to be a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show up.