I am Happy

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Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- In “I am Happy” a mentally ill patient and his nurse, both driven to the brink by family problems, cross paths at the asylum. Even there, they find no comfort as the place is like a prison mirroring oppressive society outside. Yoon Jong-chan’s ironically titled drama is a bleak but penetrating manifestation of how forbearance offers no fortitude against ill fate.

Happy is probably the last thing audiences will feel after witnessing a cycle of mental breakdown, though the film’s evocation of financial insecurity reflects the current mood of economic meltdown. Nowadays, even escapist romances and zany comedies from Korea are no boxoffice guarantee. This subject is just too downbeat for popular consumption.

After three month’s treatment for mental illness, Man-su (Hyun Bin) is pronounced fit for rehabilitation in society, but he has fallen in love with his nurse Su-kyung (Lee Bo-young), and refuses to leave. Flashbacks, which take up half the screen time, show how the two protagonists are still very much shackled to their pasts of financial woes, family and romantic betrayal. Depicted in a stream of consciousness manner, these flashbacks border on fantasy or nightmare. Scenes of Man-su’s brother trying to burn their mother alive and recurrent deathbed spasms of Su-kyung’s ailing father are particularly grueling.

Furthermore, scenes taking place in the present compound the characters’ sense of desperation: Kang, the ward’s head doctor, subjects Man-su to painful electro-treatments and Su-kyung to psychological bullying. The ending brings an uneasy peace as the protagonists face the future with downcast resignation.

Yoon’s controversial “Blue Swallow” was criticized for historical revisionism. Personal feelings of being hounded and ostracized may have been translated into an air of paranoia pervading this film. Even when the characters’ grievances are ambiguously depicted as part of a persecution complex, the anxiety of being at the end of one’s tether feels real.

For all the film’s pessimistic outlook, it is not voyeuristic about human suffering, and a sympathetic tone rather than cynicism prevails. Hyun Bin’s hyperactive performance and the introverted personality Lee Bo-young projects strike a fine balance.

Bluestorm Co. Ltd./Fine Cut/DCG Plus
Cast: Hyun Bin, Lee Bo-young, Kim Sung-min, Park Hyo-ju.
Director-screenwriter: Yoon Yong-chan.
Original story by: Yi Chung Jun.
Executive Producer: Park Hyun Tae.
Producer: Bae Yong-kook, Yun Il-joong.
Director of Photography: Lee Chang-jae.
Production Designer: Baek Gun-in.
Music: Kim Dong-ki.
Editor: Young Min-ho.
Sales: Fine Cut.
No rating, 115 minutes.

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