As hospital dramas go, "Last Blues, Last Dance" is surprisingly upfront about the inevitable hopelessness of existing as a terminally ill patient without dipping into melodrama or even anything that can really be called depression. The story shifts constantly between three patients who have come to term with their imminent deaths in very different ways, none of which are that effective. But then, is there really a good way to face death?
Pastor Min (played by Lee Jong-gook) neatly encapsulates this philosophy right away with his look of absolute disgust toward his overly cheerful and loud parishioners. Pastor Min is, for all his best efforts, an object of worship, and this exhausts him. The poor old man misses his wife and just wants to gripe like a normal person in his final days. The evolution of Pastor Min's life philosophy is fascinating as it neither demeans the man himself nor his faith, but rather just recognizes his innate humanity and sense of regret, however petty.
This is well-contrasted with Cheol-goo (played by Choi Yong-jin), a man who has much more to regret and atone for yet can only comfort himself with delusions as he tries to hope that everything will turn all right for his teenaged son Gi-hyeon (played by Ahn Do-kyu). On the complete flip side of this, teenager Ji-in (played by Lee Kyung-min) is in a constant sense of rage because she's dying young. Consequently, Ji-in will accept a less than ideal sexual partner because she's determined to do something with her short life, however pathetic.
The joke being that life is inherently pathetic. And also kind of a joke. "Last Blues, Last Dance" delivers this message neither with grim irony nor overly morose bleakness. The movie's best scenes are just tragically, comically pathetic. I loved one where Ji-in speaks with her family, her unrepentant anger at standing at death's door ludicrously contrasted with the obnoxiously loud noises coming from her younger brother's toy. It's a scene that never shows up in movies that most assuredly happens in real-life all the time.
Another excellent example of the movie's sense of humor is one of the most ridiculous pick-up lines I've ever heard. But none of the strong moments in "Last Blues, Last Dance" work just in isolation. Every character in the movie trends toward increasingly preposterous thinking as time goes on just because there's no excuse not to. Far from making them scared, death has made our three patients almost fearless, capable of incredible feats that are personally empowering yet are otherwise totally useless.
Empowerment on its own is something, I guess. At least that's how our framing device, psychiatrist Dr. Kang (played by Ban Min-jung) thinks. Which just makes her own slowly escalating story all the more impressive. Especially tragic in retrospect is one cryptic scene where Dr. Kang is reported to a superior- eventually, we learn, for much stranger reasons than we would have expected. More than anything else, "Last Blues, Last Dance" is the story of how death is uncomfortable and weird.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Last Blues, Last Dance""
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