If Always had been made by any other director I would not have minded. I would not have gone to see it either. But as it was made by Song Il-gon, I went along, and was sorely disappointed.
It’s not that it’s a bad film of its genre. It’s well made and moving. The lead actors are pretty and do their job well. But it’s just a melodrama, and one which uses coincidences rather too much. You expect more from Song Il-gon, but I suppose everyone needs to make a little money.
It opened the Busan festival last year, on the back of which it has been sold to Japan and invited to film festivals in China, Italy and San Francisco, but didn’t put in a spectacular showing in the domestic box office, where it was up against Punch.
I found myself squirming in my seat, sometimes at the violence involved, sometimes at the cliches involved, and sometimes because, well, it was going on far too long. It’s a film where you have to suspend so much disbelief that you might as well not be there. Right from the beginning, when Jeong-hwa (Han Hyo-joo) inexplicably finds herself at ease with and attracted to the awkward and taciturn Cheol-min (So Ji-sub) despite not being able to see him; through the implausibility of her being competent enough to live on her own but not being able to pull a pair of knickers out of the bathroom plughole; and through to the numerous coincidences without which their relationship would never have developed the way it did. Song made some profound statements about fate and destiny in the Q & A after the screening, but when the on-screen coincidences are so ridiculously improbable, no amount of Eastern philosophy makes them bearable.
As I was watching this movie, I found myself comparing it to Pain, another disappointing 2011 melodrama where the male protagonist has to revisit his murky and violent past in order to fund an expensive operation for his impossibly cute girlfriend. Always scores marginally higher than Pain for the quality of the acting, but it’s a close-run thing. But if you like melodramas, you’ll love it.
Song Il-gon (송일곤): Always (오직 그대만) 2011.
- Buy the 4-disc limited special edition disk of Always at YesAsia, complete with deleted scenes (including an ending that was cut)