Never Forever, written/directed by Gina Kim, starring Vera Farmiga and Jung-woo Ha, with David McInnis

Never Forever, written/directed by Gina Kim, starring Vera Farmiga, Jung-woo Ha

+ Highly Recommended +

Yesterday, July 28, was the closing night of the 30th New York Asian American International Film Festival. Among other things, they chose to bookend this year’s run with the Sundance 2007 Grand Jury Prize Nominee, Never Forever.

Vera Farmiga (The Departed) expertly becomes Sophie, the well-to-do wife of a successful Korean American lawyer (David McInnis, The Cut Runs Deep).But even with the big house, the important company of upscale living and everything else, Andrew cannot give her a child, for he is impotent. After Andrew slips into suicidal depression and her in-laws give her stern looks during prayer sessions, Sophie takes on desperate measures to save her marriage. She secretly pays Jiha (Jung-woo Ha, The Fox Family, Kim Ki-duk’s Breath and Time),an undocumented Korean worker, to impregnate her. When business dealings and secrets unravel, Sophie must choose how to carry on.

Writer/Director Gina Kim, on-set with crew.

Writer/Director Gina Kim, on-set.

The second feature-length film from writer and director Gina Kim shows us a strong turn in her storytelling, now that it takes on a much more straightforward narrative approach than her first film from 2003, Invisible Light, which although dealt in a similar theme of woman and body in relation to longing/intimacy, was more experimental in style.

Turning the table on interracial relationships, women’s identity and self-empowerment, Never Forever gives us believable and strong performances that ring painfully true in our lives today, transcending the race divide that it kicks off from.An opportunity of circumstance culminates into the moment of self-discovery as Sophie defines her life beyond those around her –and it stirs the viewer with a chill and a nod.  When I spoke to Kim after the festival closing reception about her turn to narrative, she added to the Q&A that immediately followed the screening by explaining to me that it was only natural in line with the framework of the story — when the film is not a dialogue-heavy one as this is, it’s important that concepts and ideas are conveyed through a straight-forward way of cinematic language, for example showing the isolation of Sophie from the Korean/Korean-American family through the church scenes — not necessarily as a critique on the church culture but rather as an observation and as the most effective way to show iton-screen without bogging them down with much expositional dialogue.

With the help of cinematographer Matthew Clark, Kim makes every shot of the film count, from the clothing to the awkward silences, and the winding streets of New York City is not so unlike the tangle of Sophie’s journey. One thing that I didn’t like so much was the score by Michael Nyman (Gattaca and The Piano) who ironically enough uses mainly solo piano compositions that were often too loud and jarring, putting the speakers in what sounded like they would rip from the ceiling at certain emotionally wrought scenes. But otherwise, Vera Farmiga is indeed perfect at the loaded scenes full of layers of emotions and meaning, as Kim puts it. Jung-woo Ha also surely gained a bunch of new fans with his spot-on portrayal and messy-good looks. (Quoting the girls a row above me as the final credits roll on-screen: “Where is he? Where is he?There! There it is ‘Jiha: Jung Woo-Ha!’ Omigod he’s so hot!”)

In the end, the film raises a lot of questions about family, fidelity, the role of a woman/wife/mother,race — the list goes on — and it only becomes clear by the end of the film that Sophie’s choices, though meandering and rarely fully voiced out loud, are really the only thing that matters — as should be in any person’s own life. Selfish, maybe. Morally ambiguous, maybe even moreso. But as many would agree, “It’s my life” — and that’s exactly what Sophie realizes for herself.

+ Highly Recommended +

Never Forever (2007)

Director/Writer: Gina Kim

starring Vera Farmiga, Jung-woo Ha, David McInnis

  • NYAAIFF post
  • Interview with Director/Writer Gina Kim by Asian Cinevision/NYAAIFF (actually covers a lot that was retreaded during the post-screening Q&A – though a warning, this interview has a slight spoiler in the middle)
  • film info: imdb & official Korean site (strangely enough, the Korean title is “두번째 사랑” meaning “2nd Love”)

Trivial/anecdotal notes:

  1. When I introduced myself Kim actually correctly recognized me as one of her uncredited extras from a day of shooting (at the church and funeral), and I was thankful — saidshe has a very photographic memory, especially of people’s faces.
  2. As I drove her to the after-party, Kim said she never set foot in Korea during planning nor making the film, even though 100%of the financial support came from there (the film was produced by Chang-dong Lee, director of Peppermint Candy and the recent Secret Sunshine, and by way of Korea’s Now Films of My Mother, the Mermaid).That’s the power of globalization, folks — getting money from people without having to look at them. Just kidding, really goes to show howmuch they believed in the strength of the story, actors and Kim’s directorial ability.

Tags: Gina Kim, interracial relationship, Jung-woo Ha, Never Forever, Vera Farmiga