Seen in Jeonju

Happiness For Sale (2013)

2nd July 2013

HAPPINESS FOR SALE– director: Jeong Ik-hwan– starring: Choi Kang-hee, Bong Tae-gyu, Joo Jin-mo, Jeong Gyu-soo, Kim Won-hae– 106 minutes– Release date: May 16, 2013.
I was asked recently by an airline to review Happiness For Sale for their August inflight magazine. I never expect much when I review films for them as they often select very mainstream films as they are not usually films I would have picked to see in the theaters. In this case however, the movie was not bad and had several good aspects. I wrote a light review of it and submitted it to the editor, but I thought that I would write a review here as well. When I review recent films I usually try to avoid spoilers as with the review of Horror Stories 2 that I wrote a couple of days ago. However, if this case, I will not be avoiding spoilers. The rational behind this decision is that Happiness For Sale is a very simple, family-friendly film. As such there are no unexpected twists in the plot. In fact, once you know the setup of the story, any audience member could write it him/herself. So.. Spoilers there are spoilers ahead…. You have been warned.

The film features on Kang Mina (played by Choi Kang-hee). Kang is a low-level civil servant working in a tax office and having a very bad day at the start of the movie. She has just broken up with her longterm boyfriend who has been cheating on her and clients are giving her trouble. One traffic accident and a case of road rage later, Kang finds herself on a two-month suspension. Having nothing better to do at this time, Kang decides to respond to calls she has been receiving regarding her estranged father who has been hospitalized and is deeply in debt. She heads to the small town of Muju to handle her father’s affairs but she does not do this graciously. She is short and sulky the moment she enters her hometown and in her brief dealings with her father. Furthermore, she seems to take a bitter delight in the idea of selling off that store her father owns as soon as she can even as she is moaning about all the work it she will have to do in order to clean up the dusty shop.

Mina is a classic example of an adult who blames everything in her life on her parents and childhood. The personality she has demonstrated up to this point in the film is petulant and immature, prone to temper tantrums and likely to respond to problems by either sulking or lashing out. We can see the root of her problems stem from being teased as a child by her classmates because of her father’s stationary/toy shop located just outside of the elementary school she attends. However, we see her father being very kind and friendly to the very same children who torment his daughter at school. Mina reacts by becoming volitile with her father, frequently telling him that she hates him when he shows her patience and kindness. What she fails to see as a child is that the way she acts perpetuates the cycle of being ostracized by the other children. But as an adult, she fails to realize that she has a choice in how she acts. I have very little patience with any adult who continues to blame their parents or minor things that happened in elementary school for all the problems in their lives.

Fortunately, there is another, infinitatley more likable character in the film. HIs name is Choi Kang-ho. A former classmate of Mina, and her only friend as a child, Kang-ho was also bullied because he was very shy and introverted. However, his reaction to the bullying and his life afterward, was quite different than Mina’s. Kang-ho is now a new teacher at the elementary school and it is only a matter of time before the two main characters renew their friendship.

One of the things I liked about this movie is how the children from 20 years ago mirror the children in the present day. Same characters but different faces. Having been on the receiving end of being teased in school, Choi takes some creative steps towards making his classroom a tolerant and accepting place. This is not lost on Mina, whose early dealings with the children were quite hostile. However, she finds an identification figure among them.. one who reminds her of herself as a child. And while our leading lady plots to take as much money from the children as possible to clear out her father’s stock, she unknowingly becomes attached to them emotionally and they come to rely on her.

Choi Kang-hee often overacts her role as Mina, but that was clearly because she was playing a caricature rather than a real character. Bong Tae-gyu gets the much better role to play, although early in the film Choi Kang-ho is played for comedy as he is still as awkward as an adult as he was as a child. But in general I liked the film.. the evolution in the lead and the gradual changes we see among the relationships among the children. Certainly not the best movie of the year, but a nice family movie nonetheless.

Comments are closed.