In-ku (Han Suk-kyu) runs his own pharmacy and lives at home with his mother, also taking care of his mentally-ill brother In-seob (Lee Han-wi). While he loves his family he sometimes finds it difficult not to think about living his own life and getting married, but he feels that he’s too restricted by responsibility to ever settle down.
Hye-ran (Kim Ji-su) runs a clothes store, but also specialises in making imitations of popular brands. She and her sister Mi-ran are heavily in debt, thanks to their late father, and they’re finding it tough to move on in life. Mi-ran wishes to marry and escape her troubles, but Hye-ran doesn’t want to be left with all the crap. A chance encounter sees Hye-ran run into In-kyu, and soon they form a friendship. They begin to confide in one another and find that their lives aren’t so different, and thus they become romantically involved. As they become even closer their burdens begin to grow and they find themselves questioning family values as they seek to find the answers to their troubles.
Solace is the directorial debut from Byeon Seung-wook, who also worked from his own screenplay which was five years in the making. A former assistant director of Lee Chang-dong for the 2000 hit Peppermint Candy - which explains his homage to the director during a movie drive-in scene - Seung-wook fuels his picture with simple human insight and real emotions. Solace is a well grounded feature that doesn’t take too many liberties with its material; it even refrains as much as possible from drowning itself in heavy melodrama, rather presenting us with these people and their troubles and letting us decide if they’re worth caring about or not. Unsurprisingly the director can’t quite escape the odd musical cue here and there, but overall this isn’t a picture that relies on advantageous scoring and manipulative twists, and it doesn’t need to. The lives surrounding the film’s primary characters are indicative of a real world that Seung-wook is trying to portray: family hardships, acceptance, settling down and social woes, which everyone must try to overcome, if not simply cope with. He gives us people from all walks of life and never is anyone portrayed as being significantly more important than anyone else ( “I’m a human being too.” proclaims a prostitute at one point). Taking precedence are financial burdens, coupled with family ties. Here we have characters who dream of escaping from their lives, knowing that in reality they can’t, but they seek to drown out their sorrow with the likes of alcohol, before realising that the company of another is as powerful as any drug.
And this is how Seung-wook builds up his tale, though despite what you might think it’s all played quite light-heartedly. There’s a lot of fun behind his script, which above all else shows clear love and affection between family members, regardless of frustrations that might often set in. Much of this may seem rather formulaic to a certain extent, and if not for such a likeable cast it might not have worked half as well as it does. We need to be able to follow these characters with our undivided attention, particularly when considering that the picture clocks in at almost two hours, which granted is a good twenty minutes overcooked. There are scenes that unfold over lengthy durations, but with things resting firmly on the shoulders of the ever capable Han Suk-kyu it’s difficult not to find comfort within. His bond with his brother, as played by Lee Han-wi is often delicately handled, allowing a strong dynamic to manifest into something truly great by the end, while Kim Ji-su, still relatively fresh from her impressive debut in This Charming Girl, provides an equally subtle performance, which sees the viewer believe in such a blossoming relationship. All of this is encapsulated by Byeon Seung-wook’s rather low-key approach. Solace isn’t anything more than quietly attractive to look at; it’s spread across few locations and feels quite restrained, but it’s a well-lit production that manages to admirably balance its change in mood from time to time. A good first effort from a director who will surely stick around for a while longer.
According to Yesasia, Solace is strictly a limited edition release. I’m not entirely sure why to be honest as there’s nothing in particular that makes it stand out from any standard DVD. It comes in a typical amaray case, housing one disc and a few extra features. I can speculate, then, and wonder if CJ Entertainment is putting out very few copies, possibly due to the feature underperforming.
Solace is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Aside from some pooey edge enhancement it’s a very nice looking transfer. Contrast is good and flesh tones appear natural, as does the rest of the colour palette. There’s a nice amount of detail, with nothing in the way of compression artefacts, and there doesn’t appear to be any other problems such as aliasing etc.
The Korean 5.1 Surround track is a simple offering. This isn’t a film that requires a great deal, so don’t expect much more than clear dialogue. The score, while pleasant enough, is immediately forgettable, but it’s given a bolster across the front and rear channels, while a few ambient effects also kick in ‘round the back - during rainy scenes for instance.
Optional English subtitles are included and they offer a good translation, with nothing to worry about in terms of grammar and timing.
First of all we have an audio commentary with director Byeon Seung-wook, Kim Ji-su and director of photography Lee In-won. They talk about the film and laugh a bit. Next is a Making Of documentary (21.36), which is typical of your standard feature: behind the scenes footage of the cast having fun and filming, along with various scenes is interspersed with interviews from the director, crew and actors. The Character and Cast (7.57) features Han Suk-kyu, Kim Ji-su and Lee Han-wi discuss the characters they play, while the Deleted Scenes (9.00) are fairly lengthy, with not much happening. Following on from this is a Photo Shoot (2.01), which has the three principal actors pose for the poster campaign. A theatrical trailer and a teaser round off the bonus content.
Solace wasn’t exactly a big hitter at the Seoul box-office. It was relatively low key, being made on just under 3 million dollars and hitting theatres in November 2006, but it’s a fine little indie film with a great cast that approaches its subjects respectfully to help get it through a somewhat lengthy trial.