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His Last Gift
His Last Gift

Shin Hyun Joon (left) and Hur Joon Ho (right) face off in His Last Gift.
Korean: 마지막 선물

Last Present

Year: 2007  
Director: Kim Yung-Joon  
Writer: Bom Ee-Hwan  
  Cast: Shin Hyun-Joon, Hur Joon-Ho, Jo Soo-Min, Ha Ji-Won, Kwon Oh-Jung, Kim Sang-Ho, Jo Won-Hee, Bang Hyeob, Choi Sung-Ho, Park Min-Ji
  The Skinny:

This tearjerker from the director of Bichunmoo promises more than it delivers, but seeing two tough guy stars do the melodrama thing is a good enough reason to check it out.

Kevin Ma:

Two fathers - one birth, one adopted - come together in an unlikely arrangement to save their daughter in His Last Gift, the latest Korean melodrama about the sacrifices people make in the name of family (and the title should clue people in on what type of sacrifice is made in this film). Director Kim Yung-Joon, who made his debut with the period action film Bichunmoo and also went on to make the big-budget period epic Shadowless Sword, completely shifts his style for a modestly-budgeted tearjerker. Of course, it also just means he's working with a new set of genre rules that he ends up not straying very far from.

In fact, Kim spares no time in setting up the terminal illness scenario, as the first image of the film's "cute kid with an illness™" Se-Hee (Jo Soo-Min) is of her bleeding from the mouth. It turns out that Sa-Hee has a rare disease and will die if she doesn't get a liver transplant. Desperate to save his daughter, tough cop Yung-Woo (Hur Joon-Ho) enlists old high school friend Tae-Ju (Shin Hyun-Joon) for help. The trouble is that since Tae-Ju is a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in prison, getting his help means getting him out of prison, and like most convicted murderers would, Tae-Ju tries multiple times to escape custody. However, Tae-Ju soon discovers that Sa-Hee's dead mother was the pregnant wife that he abandoned when he was sent to prison. This also means that Tae-Ju is actually Sa-Hee's birth father, which is why he is the prime candidate for her liver transplant.

The turning point comes here: Tae-Ju suddenly decides to shed his criminal toughness and become a good father in hopes of redeeming himself. Shin has been given a difficult role here as Tae-Ju, alternating between menacing criminal, loving father, and grieving husband throughout the film. However, his transition into a kind, gentle father is too abrupt in both the script and in Shin's performance. One minute, he's about to leave his daughter to die, and the next he's cleaning her shoes with a smiling face, making his transition too easy and a little hard to believe. Shin is a likable actor, and just when he seems to be having a bit of fun as the unlikable criminal, he moves too quickly back into his old nice-guy self. Hur Joon-Ho fares better as Sa-Hee's adopted father Yung-Woo, balancing his tough-guy persona with a gentle side as a loving father well enough to make him a character to sympathize with. However, like Tae-Ju's transition into nice guy territory, it takes quite a lot to believe that the two men are old high school friends since Hur easily looks 10 years older than Shin (though Hur is only 4 years older in reality).

His Last Gift could have explored the possible conflict between the two fathers fighting for their daughter's affection. This is especially true since the two men are set up as romantic rivals in high school, but that possibility ultimately goes to waste. Instead, the filmmakers choose to focus on Tae-Ju's redemption and his regret, especially when Yung-Woo discovers out he has no money to pay for the operation after his brother's failed investment. This theme allows for the film to carry some intense emotions, which Shin does manage to express from time to time. However, the film ends up spending too much time on that theme, dragging down the pacing in the third act because of the narrative detours taken. By the time His Last Gift gets to revealing what the last gift is and who it's from, Kim has used up all of his clichés and the film simply ends. The ending does try to drive the film to some kind of emotional climax, but it doesn't make use of all its potential because of the misplaced conflict.

First-time screenwriter Bom Ee-Hwan manages to craft two interesting characters and even an intriguing backstory for the two men. But the criminal element in Tae-Ju's life pops up too often, offering the usual gangland violence seen in Korean melodramas. Kim handles the transition from big-budget martial arts to melodrama with a passing grade, employing a toned-down visual style and fantasy montages to drive home the emotions. The director does get a little overindulgent and relies too much on the fantasy technique as a way of visually expressing emotions. Nevertheless, Kim's biggest accomplishment here is getting credible performances from his two stars, making them convincing as both manly tough guys and sobbing fathers. While there is wasted potential in His Last Gift, seeing the stars turn from tough guys to sobbing messes is an intriguing, if not necessarily worthwhile, reason to check out the film. (Kevin Ma 2008)


Korea (Region 3)
Taewon Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Korean and English Subtitles
Various Extras


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