Have we ever wondered why it seems that bad things happen only to good people? Is it that we do not notice bad things happening to bad people and we write it off simply as karma? Or is it that the suffering makes a person look better in our eyes than he or she really is? The truth probably does not have anything to do with the two theories, because people, good or bad, suffer for completely different, realistic reasons: bad decision they have made or simply bad luck. “Wonderful Woman”, the ninth film of the South Korean filmmaker Jeon Kyu-hwan, is exactly that: a film about a woman having to endure some harsh life conditions. It premiered internationally at 23rd edition of Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia in Signatures section dedicated to established arthouse filmmakers.
In the very first scene, our heroine, played by Ahn Min-yeong, is pretty much diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The good news is that it is diagnosed early, so it is operable and her chances of full recovery are very high, with a proper care. The trouble is, however, that her life is not very predictable, as she works in a massage parlour that got temporarily locked down because of prostitution, she has no savings and no luxury to take some time off.
The additional trouble is that she has to attend the wedding of her daughter whom she left when the latter was a teenager and in order to do so, she has to track down the husband she has not seen for ages. She has the urge to make things right, for her wrongdoings and also for her husband who gambled away all of their property and left them without means to survive. So our titular heroine is being drained physically, emotionally and financially and her time is ticking away…
After experimenting with genre cinema lately, Jeon has got back to his roots in socially charged dramas along the lines of his early Town trilogy. In the hands of a less tactful filmmaker, “Wonderful Woman” could easily earn the label of a “misery porn” film, but Jeon knows very well how to induce the maximum of viewers’ emotion without being exploitative or sentimental. As a screenwriter, he is very aware of his heroine’s flaws and as a director and DoP (he handled the camerawork himself, sometimes resulting in unnecessarily shaky long hand-held shots), he decidedly stays with her for the whole 97 of minutes, offering a view to her life and providing understanding.
On her part, Ahn Min-yeong is exceptional in her role, brave to no limits to present herself in an emotionally open way, keeping her composure, rarely missing the step and not even slightly overdoing her part. Her presence is simply magnetic and she carries the film on her shoulders almost effortlessly, making it a must-see for fans of Jeon’s work and enthusiasts for arthouse cinema with socially aware side to it.