TV producer Da-Hye lived through a miserable childhood. Her parents fought all the time and finally divorced. Da-Hye then found her prince charming and was engaged to marry him. Then on a rainy night, the day before her birthday, Da-Hye’s friend Ji-Suk calls and asks for a ride from her fiance. When her fiance arrives, he finds out that Ji-Suk has already gotten a ride from his sister Ji-Min. As Da-Hye’s fiance walks back to his car he is hit by a motorcycle. The driver of the motorcycle then turns around and fatally runs over her fiance. One year later, Da-Hye has forgiven the teenager who killed her fiance. She believes that he still has a chance to turn his life around and it’s better to just move on. Da-Hye has quit her TV job and is now working on a documentary about forgiveness requested by the Catholic Church. During the shooting of the film, Da-Hye thinks back to the teenager who killed her fiance and starts to have doubts on whether she should have forgiven the boy so easily. Da-Hye burdened with this doubt seeks out the boy to see how he is now living.
Dealing with the notion of forgiveness is perhaps one of the most difficult experiences for human beings to face. It can shape an entire ideology of a nation, communities, families, and perhaps most importantly, the individual. We all have faced this obstacle of forgiveness at some point in our lives; some being rudely defiant until the end while others gracefully allowing time for healing to occur. Director Lee Jeong-Hyang’s A Reason To Live focuses on such a heavy subject, detailing the emotional and psychological conflicts that arise when we begin to question what being able to forgive truly means in regards to a terrible wrong that has been committed against us or the ones we care for. The film explores this subject through a variety of circumstances that showcase the diverse range of what forgiveness means to different individuals—but does it succeed?
On paper, A Reason To Live sounds like a film that can significantly address the idea of absolution in a mature and genuine fashion, and for the most part it does. The premise is certainly interesting, covering a universal human quality that can easily be expounded upon in a variety of unique ways—but therein lies the unfortunate nature of the film as a whole. A Reason To Live remains conflicted as to how it is to explore such a serious question as forgiveness, allotting much of its time towards characters that don’t receive much resolve by the film’s end. The film doesn’t really paint the issue of forgiveness as ambiguous in nature, rather deciding to lean more towards forgiveness as an action to be avoided if possible, or worse, suggesting that it be only applicable to those too ignorant enough to follow through with it.
While the film spends much of its time on the plight of Da-Hye—played by the miscast Song Hye-Kyo—and her dealing with forgiving her fiancés murderer, in an ironic twist the characters she’s interviewing in the film showcase far more substance as damaged individuals than she does. She seemingly floats throughout the narrative, not showing much depth or development as the protagonist and appearing somewhat detached from it all. It doesn’t help that the archetypical church staff that help her along the way simply suggest “she forgives because God forgives,” which totally situates the difficult issue as something simplistic, easily understood, and not as complicated as it truly is. The same can be said of Ji-Min (played by Nam Ji-Hyun), a young teenager who’s constantly questioning Da-Hye’s journey towards forgiveness, which just becomes utterly tiresome and cruel after awhile. This approach doesn’t bode well with the remainder of the film, and the two show very little chemistry nor likeable towards one another, which brings into question further why these characters continue to hang around together.
One can see that that the issues raised within A Reason To Live are important to discuss—such as forgiveness, child abuse, and religion—but the film’s execution is severely underwhelming. By the time that the film concludes, very little has happened in terms of significant character growth, with both Da-Hye and Ji-Min appearing as individuals too disturbed by the power of forgiveness to truly comprehend it—and in many ways, outright reject it. The film gradually attempts to paint forgiveness as a negative, which diminishes the emotional impact that the film presents as social commentary, a route that if followed more closely would have elevated the film as a whole. While one can appreciate the diverse range of characters each showcasing a distinctive take on the ability to forgive, the narrative seems poised to simply downplay its significance as a primary facet in beginning the road towards healing. A Reason To Live, while showcasing good intentions, isn’t nearly as thought provoking as one would hope, instead unfortunately relying on contrived melodrama to support its narrative.