Never Forever

Sophie’s (Vera Farmiga) blonde hair and blue eyes stand out noticeably among the sea of dark-haired, brown-eyed Koreans. Sophie is married to a Korean-American, but her alienation from those around her goes beyond simply racial background. Unlike her husband’s overly religious family, Sophie is not spiritual. When she tags along to church services or prayer sessions where the preacher recites a prayer entirely in a language she doesn’t understand, Sophie is wide-eyed, blank faced. She feels no connection.

Sophie’s life is entirely concentrated through others. She lives in a nice house, tags along on family functions, silently sits through church services, and tries to please her husband, Andrew (David Lee McInnis). When the film begins, Sophie is feeling concerned for Andrew who has fallen into depression after the death of his father. The couple also can’t get pregnant, which makes Andrew’s depression even worse.

After Andrew’s suicide attempt, Sophie grows increasingly desperate to help her husband. One day, while at the clinic, Sophie sees Jihah (Jung-woo Ha), a Korean immigrant who looks similar to her husband. Jihah is there to donate sperm but is denied because his visa expired. Angry, he takes off and Sophie chases after him.

For about 20 minutes she follows him — hiding behind corners, peering through windows. It all seems silly at first until she finally confronts him outside his apartment. She tells him she has a job for him — to get her pregnant. She says each time they have sex she’ll pay him $300; once she finally succeeds in getting pregnant, she’ll pay an additional $3,000. And then, without the slightest hint of hesitation, Sophie takes off her clothes and waits.

She stares at him, wide-eyed and blank faced. She feels no connection to him. Jihah, too, is disconnected. He’s illegally staying in the country, speaks little English, and is desperate to find work. He wants to save enough money to buy a plane ticket for his girlfriend in Korea to join him. Ironically, her picture lingers in the background when Jihah and Sophie first have sex — mirroring their infidelity.

So obviously Jihah and Sophie are more alike than they think. But even with its unusual plot, the film can’t help turning into some deeper version of Unfaithful. It’s not long before Sophie and Jihah start to fall for each other, which creates a whole mess of problems for the both of them.

What keeps Never Forever from drifting into Lifetime movie of the week territory is Farmiga’s acting and Gina Kim’s directing. When the film begins, the acting actually feels a bit stiff. It’s not until we get to the real meat of the story that Farmiga shines.

In the sex scenes between Sophie and Jihah, the business-like rituals between them are shown in a way to heighten the mechanical actions. The camera is stationary while Sophie stares blankly, making sure to never look Jihah in the eyes. Gradually, as their sessions continue, the film makes subtle changes. The camera becomes busier, Sophie begins to show emotion, and in turn the scene begins to subtly morph into something else. By the time Sophie and Jihah are aware of what’s happening, the moment is cathartic for both characters and the viewers.

Indeed, Sophie’s growing emotion is well conveyed, but feeling is missing from the male actors, particularly David Lee McInnis, who plays Andrew. His character doesn’t require much, except to mope around and look depressed. During a few confrontations with Sophie, that same mopey characteristic is echoed, which only makes him look psychotic instead of hurt.

It’s also arguable whether this was intentional or not to force the audience to dismiss their empathy for him. There’s a particular scene toward the end that seems to only exist to justify the eventual actions Sophie makes. A film like this is more powerful when all the characters are emotionally and empathetically equal. There’s really no need for villains.

Since this is an independent film, the DVD is sparse. There are two mini featurettes, a trailer, and that’s about it. The featurettes are in Korean with no English subtitles. One featurette has an interview with both Farmiga and Jung-woo Ha, who plays Jihah. Farmiga speaks in English, but Ha’s entire interview is not translated, which is disappointing.

The rest of the featurettes are behind the scene shots of actors making funny faces, waving at the camera, standing around waiting for their cue — that sort of thing. There’s minimal talking in these parts, so the lack of English subtitles is less frustrating.

Never Forever actually has a huge cult following in Korea. In an interview, director Gina Kim questioned if the attention was because of the interracial theme, but she later concluded that audiences simply enjoy the complex, emotional aspects, which is all Never Forever is. It’s less melodrama and more coming of age.

RATING 7 / 10