Happiness

Bottom Line: Familiar, yet poignant.

Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Happiness proves to be particularly fleeting for the two wounded souls in Korean filmmaker's Hur Jin-ho's bittersweet melodrama of the same name.

While the story goes along a fairly predictable path, it progresses with a gentle lyricism and stirring performances from leads Hwang Jung-min and Lim Soo-jung.

Not yet attached to a domestic distributor, the film starts off in a soulless Seoul, where hard-drinking, hard-clubbing Young-su (Hwang), has hit bottom, suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.

He checks himself into a rural sanatorium, where he meets up with the shy, lovely Eun-hee, an assistant at the facility who lives her life in carefully measured breaths as a result of her diseased lungs.

In time, Young-su's casual flirtation with the young woman blossoms into something deeper, and the two eventually leave the sanatorium and start a life together, tending a small farm.

Through her attentive care, Young-su eventually regains his health, but a surprise visit from a friend and ex-lover drag him back into his old self-destructive ways and, ultimately, Young-su doesn't realize what he had until it's gone.

Hur, whose "April Snow" was screened at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, gives "Happiness" a gently rendered breathing pattern of its own, allowing the chain events to be fully registered across the expressive faces of his two main actors.

Even as the script, by Hur and three others, heads in a familiar direction, the journey taken is still a poignant one -- a quality further enhanced by Kim Hyung-koo's vibrant outdoor cinematography and Cho Sung-woo's tender, haunting score.
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