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A Portrait of Mortality at Fantasia 2022


If, while serving the final years of your prison sentence, you were told you were going to die in two days, what would you do? Im Sang-soo, the mind behind the movies The Taste of Money and The Housemaid, has an answer for that question in his later film: Heaven: To the Land of Happiness. Im, who directs and resides in South Korea, is known for his stylish movies that touch upon corruption in society. In The President’s Last Bang, he takes on the case of the dictator Park Chung-hee and the events leading up to his assassination. The Housemaid, released in 2010 and an adaptation of the classic Korean film of the same name, dwells on the concept of wealth and what it takes to keep that wealth, leading to an unfortunate series of events when a newcomer bursts a wealthy household’s bubble. The Taste of Money, which was also released in the 2010s, follows a similar path as The Housemaid discussing finance and corruption.

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Heaven: To the Land of Happiness was originally selected to be screened in competition at Cannes Film Festival in 2020–months before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, the film was never shown at Cannes and existed in limbo until the world slowly began to open up again. This was Im’s first film in five years and it marks a specific level of maturity in his career as a filmmaker in regards to its subject and how he chose to depict it. Heaven also came with a star-studded cast, which lends itself to its cause. Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder) star in the leading roles, while veteran actors like Lee El, Youn Yuh-jung, Kim Yeo-jin, and Yoon Je-moon round out the supporting roles. With Im spearheading the movie and a cast consisting of some of Korea’s biggest names, expectations run high.


A Convict and Hospital Worker On the Run

At its core, Heaven: To the Land of Happiness is a crime comedy, so its opening scene should naturally be a car chase. With little to no context about why the characters have gotten to this point, suddenly viewers are thrust three days into the past, where a man (Choi Min-sik) sits in his cell with three other inmates, gingerly touching photographs of a young girl and tearing pieces of paper. Death plays a prominent theme from the beginning of the movie, as it is quickly revealed that the man, now dubbed Prisoner 203, has a brain tumor. His time on Earth is extremely limited, estimated to be about a fortnight, and his only wish is to die by the seaside and meet his estranged daughter to beg for forgiveness.

At the same time, an employee (Park Hae-il) working at the same hospital Prisoner 203 was diagnosed in has a secret agenda. He has been stealing drugs from his workplace to lessen the symptoms of Fabry’s disease. So, naturally, when Prisoner 203 and the employee, now dubbed Nam-sik, cross paths and Prisoner 203 plots out a grand escape from the hospital, Nam-sik decides to help him out before he, too, is caught by the cops and sentenced to a similar fate. As the two begin making their getaway, they accidentally cross paths with mobsters hauling a coffin around. They steal the crime family’s hearse, and, in the process, discover that the coffin is stuffed full of cash.


The two are not going to get away with this easily, though, as the cops are on their tail in addition to the crime family’s employees. Prisoner 203’s only dream is to see his daughter before he dies, leading the duo to take as much cash as they can and run for it. They steal clothes from a nearby home and noodles from a group of children, then begin spending their newfound wealth on drinks to impress girls and receive luxurious massages. Armed only with a taser they stole off a cop from the hospital and some random household objects that can be morphed into weapons, the movie transitions into a road film with these two strangers suddenly embarking on the trip of their lives—while also being hunted down by police and gangsters, of course.

By the movie’s end, the themes become a push and pull between the thirst for money and revenge versus simply wanting to see your child one last time before you die, even if you have been estranged for years. This is represented through Choi’s and Youn Yuh-jung’s characters. While the majority of the story is spent with Prisoner 203 and Nam-sik, they have a taste for what wealth can bring them, but it is not worth it in the end. Their mission is to find Prisoner 203’s daughter before it is too late for him to make amends. At the same time, the storyline jumps to Youn Yuh-jung, who portrays the crime family’s matriarch. She, too, is at the edge of death, but the only thing that consumes her mind—and her daughter’s too—is finding out where the coffin full of the money went. And perhaps that is the most striking symbol in the entire movie: a sealed coffin opens up, and the protagonists gleefully find out that it is full of money. However, the decision of what to do next and how one spends their final day is what truly matters in the end.


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A Mature Look At Life and Wealth

Fans of Im’s more popular international movies, like the 2010 release The Housemaid and his 2005 release The President’s Last Bang, may find Heaven: To the Land of Happiness to be inferior, but it strikes hard for a specific kind of audience. The Housemaid and The President’s Last Bang rely on particular forms of tragedy and violence to hit hard, although their protagonists, too, find themselves in unfavorable situations. All three films hold a particular brand of heaviness in their storylines as if they hold the world’s weight on their shoulders. However, Heaven: To the Land of Happiness is slower and more contemplative about life and its meaning instead of using action and vengeance as motives for the characters.

It is more contemplative, asking the harder questions at a slower, more nuanced pace. This is a distinct departure from Im’s previous films, which often were full of sex, money, action, and violence. The money shows up in this movie, but it only serves to further the points he is making throughout rather than solely becoming a motivation for the protagonists. Im also steps away from the political and satirical nature often seen in his movies, which, at times, may make the script on Heaven drag a little bit towards the middle. But as it hurtles towards the ending scenes, it picks up the intensity again and redeems itself in a feel-good manner.

The film’s cast, which is filled with some of the best in Korean cinema and entertainment, proves capable of blending all of the elements of the story. Park and Choi are quite the combination as their characters make a run for it, choosing to extend their lives of crime for one last grand adventure before it is too late. Minari’s Youn Yuh-jung, a frequent collaborator with Im Sang-soo, makes her appearance as the family’s terminally ill matriarch. Despite being bedridden in every scene she appears in, manages to make her mark as she cranks up her snarky remarks towards her daughter, portrayed here by Lee El. Youn and Lee are more concerned about money than their familial ties, which is a slight nod towards Im’s previous work with The Housemaid and The Taste of Money.

Heaven: To the Land of Happiness combines comedy and crime in a way that is not over-the-top but feels well-balanced. The humorous bits do land well, whether the movie’s golden duo is busting out of a hospital or the hearse that they are being held hostage in, and the only part where the movie begins to lag is towards the middle. Perhaps introducing more of Madame Yoon (Youn Yuh-jung) as a comedic overlay might have been good timing here, as her daughter and she are then replaced with the thugs they hired to track down Prisoner 203 and Nam-sik. Regardless, Heaven: To the Land of Happiness is worth watching for those feel-good moments and contemplative yet existentialist thoughts about life and its meaning toward the end of one’s life.

Heaven: To the Land of Happiness was screened as a part of the Fantasia International Film Festival 2022.



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Written by Ritesh Kardam

Ritesh Kardam has a degree in Bachelor of Arts and has knowledge about the Hollywood industry. He started writing in 2017. And now he is associated with NewsXpro. Also, he has many years of experience he has worked on different types of the website In case of any complaints or feedback please contact me at riteshkardam57@gmail.com

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