[HanCinema's Film Review] "Fairy"
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
As I have mentioned before, Hong Sang-soo's style of filmmaking has been dominating the Korean indie film industry, with a number of directors seeing the particular path as the only road towards festivals, and subsequently, exposure. As such, it is quite reinvigorating to see a movie that although has its base in the particular type of cinema, it also tries to do something different by adding elements of the supernatural, in a rather original way.
Ho-cheol and Yeong-ran used to run cafes rather close by, being direct competitors, but eventually they realized they liked each other and ended up getting married. However, they kept both the cafes, which still retains the sense of antagonism that pre-existed, while the fact that Yeong-ran's has more traffic, as much as that he has moved to her house, is proving quite annoying for Cheon. Add to that the baggage he carries from his previous marriage, and the fact that Yeong-ran's sister and her husband are leaning heavily on her financially, and you can realize why the relationship is in trouble.
During one of their arguments, under the influence of alcohol for that matter, they hit a young man while driving, knocking him unconscious. Afraid of what will happen if they are caught, they bring him to their house instead of the hospital. To their surprise though, the young man is not angry, he just wants to stay in their apartment for a bit, and even to help them with their shops. It turns out that the unidentifiable young man is the one the title refers to, although his influence does not go the way one would anticipate.
The element of the sudden appearance of the stranger may be quite common in anime and crime thrillers, but is not exactly the norm in indie Korean cinema, with Shin Tack-su, in his debut, taking full advantage of his presence, in order to present a drama that strays away from the norm, to some extent at least. That his influence is more towards the tense relationship of husband and wife is the element that keeps the movie grounded in realism, and also the one that allows Shin to focus on the analysis of his unremarkable but quite interesting protagonists, the ways that have made them as they are, and the fact that neither want to leave each other.
At the same time, the presence of the "Fairy" also makes a comment about how families can be formed under unlikely situations, and that blood is not always enough for such bonds, with both characters eventually suffering from them. The way the director presents the bond that has been shaped is also quite smart, even cheeky one could say, in a very interesting, subtle scene close to the end. Lastly, a comment about how financial and logistics in general issues cause strain in contemporary couples concludes the overall context here.
The acting is also on a high level. Kim Joo-hun as Ho-cheol highlights his defeatist mentality as much as his eventual need to be "the boss" himself. Ryu Hyun-kyung is excellent as the slightly neurotic wife who tries to hide her discomfort by going on offense all the time. The scene with her sister's family is one of the apogees of the movie, while in general, the chemistry of the two is excellent.
Expectantly, the cinematography follows simple paths, focusing on realism without any exaltations, while the editing induces the movie with a leisure pace that fits the overall aesthetics nicely. Some more analysis about the things that make the protagonists change would be welcome, though, while the rhythm definitely falls a bit too much just after the middle of its 80 minutes.
"Fairy" may be unrealistic, particularly on the way the ID-less man appears in their life and starts working in their shops, but the overall approach Shin implements is quite appealing, particularly because he manages to create empathy for his protagonists.
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.