Saturday, June 4, 2011

Suicide Forecast (Soo-sang-han Go-gaek-deul) 2011

I went into Suicide Forecast with little expectation, mostly because I didn't know much about it. I had seen a trailer some months back but it had no subtitles so it wasn’t much of an indication. All I could gather was that it was a comedy and that Ryoo Seung-beom wore long hair for his role as its principle protagonist. As I sat down at the CGV cinema near Downtown LA and the lights dimmed, I was at once excited by the curious opening credits sequence and taken in by the strong cinematography.

The basic elements of the plot laid themselves out quite quickly during the opening scenes. Ryoo plays Byeong-wu, an up and coming life insurance salesman who is about to hit the big league. He has a beautiful girlfriend who is concerned with his growing attention to consumer products and grooming, in a word, his vanity. We also meet a plethora of other characters who are all somehow involved in a car pileup that occurs when a petty thief who has swiped a young musician's money on the street steps into the path of a vehicle while he makes his getaway. Byeong-wu encounters a setback when one of his clients, when meets him late at night seeking comfort, commits suicide and thus loses his company money. This and other scenes, as well as the title, foreshadow the real impetus of the film, which will be a journey for Byeong-wu to become compassionate again as he races against the clock when it becomes apparent that four of his clients who signed at the same time will likely commit suicide when their two-year minimun requirement is met. This would be ruin for the young salesman so he makes it his mission to convince them to change their plans. His efforts are mostly fruitless at first but soon he learns more about them and discovers how to approach them in different ways all the while learning things about himself in the process.

An intriguing premise to be sure but the conclusion seems obvious and I hope I'm not spoiling too much by saying that it is. I’ve become used to Korean films that presented themselves as one thing, move quickly towards a conclusion only to turn into something else entirely. For the uninitiated it can be a jarring way of experiencing a film, but personally I love to have my expectations subverted. After the premise was set up I was assuming that this would be the case here because while the concept is good, it’s a little thin for the two-hour running time. So when the halfway point came about and little had moved forward and the simple ending began to seem inevitable, I grew restless and bored but mostly disappointed. Granted not all films need a big plot to create an engaging narrative, but Suicide Forecast lacked the urgency, verve, or creativity to really draw me in beyond the initial premise. It mostly relied on having interesting characters and as is common in Korean cinema, the narrative would pause to delve into their pasts and step out with richer characters. This works, to an extent, as we do get to know these characters and appreciate their motivations and trajectories. They are relatable and all quite different even though they are so tightly connected. The big dollops of melodrama are expected and perhaps necessary in such a narrative but the emotions they try to evince are not always earned.

Ryoo in the central role continues to show us how versatile a young actor he is. I remember first noticing him in the popular martial arts action-comedy Arahan (2004) but it was later in his roles as a delinquent juvenile (Crying Fist, 2005), an ex-boyfriend (Family Ties, 2006), and an entitled Magistrate (The Servant, 2010) that made me notice his considerable range. Once again he shows us that he can inhabit a character unlike the previous ones he has incarnated, although perhaps this time it is not such a major departure. While I think he did a good job with Byeong-wu, I don’t know that the character was as unique as he probably needed to be to fit well into this kind of an environment.

After a flabby and expository midsection, Suicide Forecast boils down to its inevitable conclusion. I knew it was coming and what to expect but despite myself and not completely to my surprise, the intense and emotional (albeit saccharine) mini-conclusions as each character finishes their journey are cathartic and well-rendered. As sentimental as the ending was, it was also a saving grace of sorts for the film. Following a curious opening act and a meandering middle, it embraced itself by lowering its ambitions and playing to its strengths.

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