Song Il-gon’s “Always” has completely won me over. There are a lot of Korean romantic dramas out there, but only a few of them manage to stay favourites. Great Korean love stories such as “Chunhyang”, “The Servant”, “Bad Guy”, and “My Sassy Girl” come to my mind and, after watching So Ji-sub and Han Hyo-joo on screen together, I think I can safely state that I have another love-struck nugget of a film to add to that list.
Cheol-min (So Ji-sub) is a hard working 30-year old labourer and part-time security guard. He is also an ex-boxer with a dark and haunting history, a past that he is desperately seeking redemption for. During his first night as a security guard Cheol-min gets serendipitously introduced to Jeong-hwa (Han Hyo-joo), a visually impaired (clinically blind) woman with an adorable persona. Her high-spirited nature contrasts dramatically with Cheol-min’s monosyllabic grit. The two find themselves falling in love as Jeong-hwa shows Cheol-min that love and forgiveness are Always possible.
“Always” really does have something for everyone. Fans will enjoy the heart-throbbing scenes of So Ji-sub training and sweating it out as the boxer trying to get back into the ring, and Han Hyo-joo embodies the kind of spirit that any sane man would willing throw his heart at. The chemistry between them was felt from the very first scene (which was actually just a cute misunderstanding), from there the film dramatically captures the constant push and pull of the forces that play at their star-crossed reunion.
I was surprised at the level violence in the film. For a heart-felt love drama such as this there were more cringe-worthy moments than I would have ever guessed. Unknown to Cheol-min, for example, Jeong-hwa is being sexually harassed at work by her manager, a real sleaze who actually tries to force himself on her eventually. The tragic subject of suicide is also present, a serious social issue for South Korea and its people. Cheol-min’s dark history is also particularly graphic. One of his previous jobs was as a debt collector/muscle hound who taught people very physical lessons about not paying their debts. In the film he also climbs back in the ring, which makes him bloody proof that love can indeed hurt and be worth it. “Always” finds peace and love within the eye of the storm. These two individuals are not flying through life without a care in world before they meet; they are both seeking a loving new constant in their lives. The fact that the film is graphic at times, and that it deals with some serious social issues as themes, strengthens the touching tale being told. There is plenty of worthwhile magic to be found here – Fantastic.
– C.J. Wheeler