The Gutter’s own Carol is reporting back from the Fantasia International Film Festival with a review of Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness.
In Im Sang-soo’s Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness (South Korea, 2021), the iconic actor Choi Min-sik brings his all to a story of a dying man, prisoner 203, escaping custody a hospital where he is under guard. He has two weeks maximum to live. 203 is aided by Nam-sik (Park Hae-il), a hospital worker who drifts from hospital to hospital so he an steal the unaffordable pharmaceuticals he needs to treat his own chronic condition. In case it seems like Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness is only a tragic drama, you should know that it’s more like D.O.A. (1950 or 1988), if the protagonist were not investigating his own murder, but on a kind of road trip while trying to die on his own terms.
The film begins in media chase as 203 and Nam-sik are pursued by police, including an old school detective who is ready for a shootout with 203. But it’s not just the police after them. 203 and Nam-sik are interrupted during 203’s escape in the hospital men’s room. Two men in funereal black and carrying a coffin appear just as 203 and Nam-sik have overpowered the cop guarding 203. At first, the men seem willing to leave each other alone. But, of course, it doesn’t work out that way and 203 and Nam-sik end up on the run in a hearse carrying the coffin.
Heaven is a departure from the films starring Choi Min-sik that usually get released in North America–or at least the United States and Canada. He’s wonderful in Kim Jee-woon’s dark comedy, The Quiet Family (2007), tragically terrifying in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003), just plain terrifying in Park Hoon-jung’s I Saw The Devil (2010), excellent at being an awful person in Yoon Jong-bin’s Nameless Gangster: The Rules of the Time (2012), but Choi shows a vulnerability that made me cry in Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness.
The film has a great soundtrack, too. It reminds me of the road movies of the 1960s, but instead of the youth discovering America and themselves, 203 is trying to reconnect with himself as a person while on his way out.
Read more of Carol’s thoughts about Heaven: To The Land Of Happiness here.