Yong-Gi (played by Lee Jung-jae) is a comedian who has to constantly put on a bright happy face even though his career is moving in a dubious, nebulous direction. The film's opening scene of him working a crowd onstage with his partner is surprising in its sheer oppressiveness. Going out on stage in an effort to entertain an entire crowd is a daunting, intimidating task, and nothing about the humor in this moment really takes away from this unspoken truth.
The feeling is replicated as Yong-Gi goes home and seems to have the same double-faced relationship with his wife Jeong-Yeon (played by Lee Young-ae). "Last Present" deals a lot with these uncertainties, although they soon take on a much more melodramatic tone when certain revelations come forward, and suddenly this duality, which had before been an expression of ambivalence, rapidly becomes an expression of love.
It's a fairly romantic ideal to start with. Assuming there was only one possible final gift you could give to your most beloved person in the world, what would it be? Do you even know what it is? It's a philosophical question to be sure, but this film gives it a special kind of urgency. There's this constant question of whether either Yong-Gi or Jeong-Yeon will succeed before they run out of time completely, and the tension is palpable.
The emotions this inspires are quite unique- just as our bodies have difficulty telling the difference between love and fear, so too does "Last Present" inspire passion in the viewer by contrasting the hope that these two people will succeed in their expression of love with the realization that the film is inevitably moving toward a tragic end. It's cruel and melodramatic to be sure- but it works.
These bursts of emotion are softened somewhat with the use of flashbacks and retrospectives in Jeong-Yeon's life, giving us a glimpse of the person she's been, inviting the viewer to compare the progression of her uncertain attitude regarding boys, and the closeness she's always had with her girlfriends. Like everything else in the movie, none of these scenes can bear any direct relationship to the story's inevitable direction- but they paint a clear picture of a person who for the most part has lived a normal, happy life. While Jeong-Yeon's dreams mostly relate to her husband's career this is entirely in keeping with her own low-profile personality.
Let's take the ending. It is in this moment, more than any other, that we are reminded that Yong-Gi is thoroughly a clown, and that it is this essential part of his personality that influences who he is and his relations with other people, most obviously Jeong-Yeon. It's a dumb, goofy dream- but there is a joy, a sheer ecstasy in this moment that is impossible to ignore. It is that union between two people, where it is all too clear that the feeling of one depend on the other to the extent that the state of mere flesh is an irrelevance. "Last Present" is transcendent filmmaking- much as this film works to manipulate its viewers emotions, the trueness of its ultimate result is undeniable.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Last Present""
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