Movie Review of the Week

--Review by Riposte101 @ 8/14/03 23:04 PST.

Last Present

Continuing my tour of Asia, I watched the Korean film Last Present. Let me begin by saying that a movie like Last Present is what film was created for. This ineffable tale about love and loss rises above every film I have seen this year. It is tightly wrought, complex and takes the audience for a ride on a roller coaster of emotions and does not let go until the end credits are long over. I had actually watched this film before I watched my last review movie, the Princess Blade, but I needed time for it to sink in and after almost two weeks I still find myself thinking back on the scenes with no small measure of amazement.

Last Present binds together the unlikely combination of a sly comedy with a remarkably heartfelt romantic tragedy. The movie understands that it is always easier to find truth through laughter. This movie is full of truths and it is a rare film that tells more than just events and becomes about the best elements of humanity, namely sacrifice, devotion and love.

The story is complex and layered and any overview in so small a space would be inadequate so I will not even try, instead I will just go over a few of the main plot points. The story begins with the audience following Yong-Gi (Jung-Jae Lee), a struggling comedian. His wife, Jung-Yeon Park (Yeong-ae Lee), goes to great lengths to hide her fatal illness from him. She feigns anger at him. They sleep in separate rooms so he does not hear her cries of pain in the night. She believes that he is on the verge of finding success and does not want him to become distracted by her illness. She distances herself from him so that he can concentrate on his work. She attempts to help her husband by going to the television station manager and then his wife and her relentless efforts earns her husband a spot on a comedy reality show called "King of Comedy." Yong-Gi soon learns of her condition and finds a list of people’s names that he believes that his wife wants to see before she dies.

Here begins a subplot that is wonderfully composed and runs parallel to the main story line. It involves two likeable con artists whose morals keep them from being successful in their chosen profession. After they reveal their scam to Yong-Gi he hires them to find the people on his wife's list of names so his wife can see them before she dies. It is through this inspired device that the film relates the story of how the couple first met and fell in love.

Nothing prepares us for the film's transcendent climax. The breathtaking final shot is so powerful that it paints away any of the minor flaws that the film has.

This remarkable gem is adroitly directed by Ki-hwan Oh. In every scene, I see what the director is trying to do; yet somehow I fall for it each time. Every shot just simply works because of Ki-hwan Oh's sure hand and also due in no small part to the wonderful performances.

Jung-Jae Lee, in his role as Yong-Gi, displays astonishing range. However, Yeong-ae Lee, who played the character Jung-Yeon Park runs away with the show. As Jung-Yeon Park, she turns in an awe-inspiring character study on emotion and intensity. The two when onscreen together are authentic, stirring and they always manage to evoke empathy for their characters.

The musical score contains, what are essentially varying themes on the same melody, but this somehow never ceases to elicit an emotional response. It is consistently well placed and equally well mixed.

I consider myself pretty cynical and jaded and it takes a truly great movie to make me think in new ways about the world around me and Last Present did that to me. By the end of the film I felt emotionally spent and shaken. A work like this does not come along very often and it reminds me of how special cinema can be.

Film Grade Formula

+1 1/2* Acting
+1* Directing
+1 1/2* Screenplay

Final Score: **** out of a scale of ****

Film & TV