Dir: Ji-Woo Jung. South Korea, 2000. 93 mins.
Prod co: Myung Film Co. Co-prod: Seoul Movie. Int'l sales: CJ Entertainment (+82 2 726 8488). Prod: Eun Lee. Scr: Ji-Woo Jung. DoP: Woo-Hyung Kim. Prod des: Sang-Mahn Kim. Editor: Hyung Kim, Yong-Soo Kim. Music: Young-Wook Cho, Kyu-Yang Kim. Main cast: Min-Shik Choi (Min-Ki), Boh-Yeon Jun (Bo-Ra), Jim-Mo Joo (Il-Beom).
This South Korean noir - though it's actually on the grey side of noir - was one of the more eagerly awaited films in Critics Week at Cannes. South Korea seems to be going through an Antonioni phase, getting out of its system all the repressed violence and alienation that lurks behind the smiling capitalist veneer. Which is why, watching the ironically-titled Happy End, with its slow, deliberate depiction of the banalities of modern life (cutting up milk cartons for recycling, watching afternoon soaps, having torrid sex with the designer of one's web page), those of us living in non-tiger economies are liable to think: 'Been there, done that'. It should be a big hit at home, though, where audiences are presumably supposed to think: 'Am there, doing that'.
Min-Ki, a redundant bank employee with a penchant for slushy romantic novels, looks after baby while wifey Bo-Ra brings home the bacon, in more ways than one. The domestic interiors are safe and modern, the supermarkets are safe and modern, the cars are safe and modern, and Min-Ki tallies mileage with petrol receipts. All in all, it's a horrible place to live, and Bo-Ra deals with the ennui as best she can by having long, camera-hogging sex with an old school friend. Gradually suspecting that his wife's after-work engagements may have more to do with bedroom entertainment than corporate entertaining, Min-Ki gathers the evidence that he needs to turn from mild-mannered banker into homicidal maniac.
There are moments of intensity, but more often of coldness and lack of engagement, in what is clearly intended to be a pure, cathartic tragedy. It is difficult to see this well-crafted but ultimately boring film doing much business in overseas markets, except at the unreconstructed, over-fifty end of the arthouse circuit.