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[MOVIE REVIEW]'Solace' twists melodrama to its advantage

2006/11/27 Source

Sometimes, we watch films to satisfy our burning (yet often unfulfilled) desire for a better world - a cheap entertainment that whets our insatiable appetite for a sugarcoated fantasy that we hope will help replace our cheaper reality.

"Solace", directed by Byun Seung-wook, defies such convention. The world it portrays is far from beautiful: Life is tough, all the characters are trapped, relationships are hard to forge and even harder to maintain.

In-gu (Han Suk-kyu) is a likable pharmacist. He smiles a lot, is friendly, and pleasant to talk with. His drugstore is small but he seems comfortable in the cramped space, playing an online poker game in his leisure time and ordering Chinese food for a quick lunch.

But his life is anything but happy-go-lucky. Older brother, In-seop (Lee Han-wi), is mentally disabled, and In-gu bears the burden of taking care of his brother, often involving a wild-goose chase around town because he tends to disappear. His older brother's presence poses a bigger stumbling block to In-gu's life. Not long ago, In-gu lost a chance to marry a woman he loved because her family did not like his mentally disabled brother. In-gu did not want to lose her, but he could not cut off relationships with his poor brother, either.

Deep inside though, all he really wants is a burden-free life. He admits it is morally wrong, but he cannot resist thinking about other, better possibilities, especially when his older brother makes his life complicated and he misses one romantic moment after another.

Hye-ran (Kim Ji-soo) is equally stuck with her deplorable life conditions. She is barely making a living as a copycat designer. She sells fake brand clothes in Seoul's Dongdaemun shopping mall at the risk of humiliating detentions at a police station. She sees no hope. Her father has left a huge debt on his death, and she thinks she probably cannot repay the obligation in her lifetime.

At night, in his own drugstore, In-gu drinks beer by himself; his former girlfriend is getting married to another man. Hye-ran enters the store, asking for some sleeping pills. She needs a really good, sound sleep to forget her debt-ridden life, even for a night. The kind-hearted pharmacist's on-the-spot prescription: beer.

The pill request leads to beer at the pharmacy, and one thing leads to another, with the couple having a one-night stand at a shabby motel. But there is no romantic atmosphere whatsoever. They have sex. They sleep together, not spooning, but back-to-back. In the early morning, she wakes up, put on her clothes, stepping out of the motel alone. Meanwhile, he is awake too, but pretends to be sleeping, saying not a word.

Despite constant obstacles, In-gu and Hye-ran struggle to meet with each other and deepen their relationship at a slow pace. They finally pull off a truly romantic moment, only to be hurriedly brought back to the frustrating reality.

They are aware of the limitations of their relationships. They have feelings toward each other, but they don't have any room for handling such emotions because of their respective family-related burdens. Sensing the predictably negative conclusion, Hye-ran declares bravely, "Why don't we stop here?"

But the couple does not stop there, nor does director Byun, who pushes the plot forward by amplifying the emotional resonance through more family-initiated developments that produce some sentimental scenes.

"Solace" may not be the melodrama of choice for moviegoers in their 20s. But for the thirtysomethings, it is a refreshing 'Solace' - thanks to its realistic and inspiring details that capture ordinary Koreans in this stage of their lives.

By Yang Sung-jin

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