I've never cried because of a movie. I always sympathize with characters, yet I never empathize. I can never feel the true emotion. Sure, "Schindler's List" had amazing worksmanship, but it didn't do anything for me, and "Grave of the Fireflies" is equally as good, but neither, as well as pretty much any other film I've seen, has made me cry.
But "Failan" made me come pretty close.
At first, I was skeptical of the film. Korean films have come a long way, yet I trust their action and flashy stylish movies more then their dramas. "JSA" and "Shiri" are great, "Jakarta's" a lot of fun, and "Nowhere to Hide" is stylistical live manga if I've ever seen it.
But "Failan" comes out of nowhere, and makes me wonder why this didn't make it out of Korea. It's hands down one of the best films of the last year. Storywise, it avoids cliche, and other traps of romantic/tragic films, and comes out on its own.
The story is simple. A wretched bum Kang Jae(Min-Sik Choi of Shiri fame) who sells pornography and is involved in the organized crime syndicate in Inchon marries Failan (Cecilia Cheung in an amazing performance,) a young Chinese girl abandoned and alone in the world in a marriage of convenience; she gets to stay in Korea and work, and he gets some cash for it. The two never meet, yet Failan is eternally grateful.
The thing is though, Failan is not even mentioned until 45 minutes into the story. Until that point, you're following the life of Kang Jae. But as you soon discover, both are tragic characters. Failan, is one of the most beautiful characters put onto film; not just in terms of outer aesthetics, but in terms of inner beauty. She is the sweetest character I've seen in a film, and that fact makes it even harder to watch.
The film borders on drama and melodrama, but thankfully, most of it is not melodramatic. Oh sure, there's some parts where the audience scoffs, but there are other parts when what is happening is so tragically beautiful, that you can't help but get involved emotionally. Thankfully, most of it is subtle and not slam in your face "Pay it Forward" style. What affected me was when Kang Jae was reading the letter from Failan thanking him for being the kindest person she's met. What's said isn't long prose, and if you're familiar with the Korean language, the sentence structure is very simple. However, the way in which the Failan's voice-over reads it is so innocent, so sweet, and so full of emotion that I choked up at that point.
The rest of the film is equally as wonderful. The group I saw it with, 2 girls and 3 guys all in college, were all equally affected. It surprises me that Shiri, conceivably a Hollywood-esque film (albeit very well done) gets a release in the U.S but this one doesn't.
If you get a chance to see this film, do not hesitate. It took me a while to get into it, as the first 45 minutes seem to have little bearing on the story, but they actually do. Beautiful acting, cinematography, and a story. Highly Recommended.