잘못된 만남 [Santamaria] (2008)
Directed by: 정영배 (Jeong Young-bae)
Starring: 정웅인 (Jeong Woong-in), 성지루 (Seong Ji-ru)
Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
잘못된 만남 is set in a small town along the sea and about a 45 minute drive from Seoul. I don't think the film ever explicitly states its name. The two main characters are 강일도 (Kang Il-do) and 신호철 (Shin Ho-cheol). Il-do is a traffic cop (교통경찰) and Ho-cheol is a taxi driver (택시기사) [Not sure if those occupation terms in Hangul are correct]. The film opens with Ho-cheol speeding down a coastal road. In the process, he almost runs over Il-do's son. Il-do then quickly hops in his car and chases Ho-cheol down the two-lane road. The two weave through traffic and past fish markets until Ho-cheol eventually stops at a hospital. He was speeding because he was rushing an elderly lady that had passed out to the hospital, but Il-do is still angry because Ho-cheol almost ran over his son. The two argue before suddenly recognize that they know each other. Ho-cheol and Il-do were friends during their military service, but had a falling out and haven't spoken to each other since.
It turns out that Il-do has recently been demoted to a traffic cop from a higher position in Seoul for reasons that are never explained. He's also recently moved into a house right beside Ho-cheol's family's house. Il-do then begins to make Ho-cheol miserable by constantly ticketing him for traffic violations. It's a small town, so they're constantly running into each other, and the fact that they live so close together causes old tensions between the two to re-arise.
During their military service, Ho-cheol treated Il-do badly, bullying him around. To this day, Il-do still has the occasional nightmare about it. Ho-cheol has still never gotten over the fact that Il-do took the girl that he really liked back then. Ho-cheol even tried to commit suicide because of this, many years ago. However, while Ho-cheol and Il-do hate each other, their sons have become good friends.
Things become worse when gangsters show up. It seems Il-do owes a lot of money to a shady group of people and he doesn't have the money to pay them back. Perhaps he moved to the small town in an attempt to get away from these guys. With Il-do and his son's life in jeopardy, Ho-cheol gets caught having to become involved.
At first, I thought this would be a small town comedy, with the two guys constantly making each other's lives miserable, but it's littered with melodrama. This is fine, I don't have a problem with melodrama, but it's really heavy-handed here. Neither of the two main characters are particularly sympathetic, so when the dramatic melodrama comes in, it didn't really resonant with me. The whole gangster issue seemed a bit too over-the-top. The film just seems to drop too much hardship on characters for it to have any impact. This might just be me though; it's not a bad movie, it just has some issues.
The most important topic I got out of this, assuming it's true, is that it seems Korea also has issues with health care costs. In this film, Il-do goes into heavy debt to the gangsters because of health care costs. For some reason, I was under the impression that South Korea had universal health care like many European countries, and doing a quick search on the Internet shows that, to a certain extent, they do. It seems that in the past 20 years, there's been a lot of reform in Korean health care. So, perhaps the issue presented in the film is an exaggeration for dramatic reasons or a situation that is unusual from what most Koreans would experience. After all, he is paying expenses for many years worth of constant medical treatment for his wife.