Once upon a time Kang Seung-wan was a junior golf player destined for great things, but then everything went wrong. Now he's a low-life stockbroker who works too hard, with the worst luck in the world and no real prospects in life. In fact soon he might not even have a life. He owes money to everybody, including some very nasty gangsters and since he's just been forced to take out a life insurance policy - on himself! - there's a good chance he only has a few weeks left to live. In short, nothing works out right for Seung-wan and he's at his wits end.
On his way home from work one night he drives too fast and loses control of his car. He smashes into the side of a tunnel, and then everything goes quiet.
When Seung-wan opens his eyes again he's in completely different place. As if that wasn't strange enough everybody seems to know his name. Total strangers come up to him on the street and ask for an autograph. They all know him as the famous golf champion Seung-wan!
As Seung-wan tries to make sense of this new situation, he realizes that he's somehow ended up in an alternate reality. A world where he never gave up the dream of being a golf champion and went on to become one of the most popular sports-stars in Korea. He doesn't share an apartment with his sister anymore. Instead he's married to a beautiful young woman, Ji-young (played by Ha-Ji-won) and he lives in a big beautiful house. He's rich, successful, in fact he's got it all. But soon Seung-wan discovers that this perfect existence has its price. It turns out that he's actually a bit of an asshole. He cheats on his wife, who's on the verge of divorcing him, and the only thing he really cares about is golf.
However, all that is about to change. The new Seung-wan is a caring sweet guy and he intends to prove that! First, he must make amends towards his wife. He must earn his way back into the bedroom and into her heart. Second, he must win a big golf tournament against a famous American champion, not because of money or fame, but because of his simple true love of the game.
Will he be able to change his ways and be a good decent man again? And even if he does, will he change back into the man he was?
What if...? What if I had made a different choice? What if I had taken a different turn?
I guess we've all played with the idea of what would happen if we went back to a certain point in our lives and made a different decision. How big an effect would a simple change have a few years down the line? This is an interesting question to pose in a film, because in a film it's possible to directly juxtapose the two different scenarios in a manor even your most vivid daydream can't.
"Reversal of Fortune" uses this gimmick to tell a sweet, simple, but nonetheless engaging story of a man who must come to terms with a life altering choice he made many years ago. Seung-wan has given up and settled on a pitiful unhealthy existence, but during the course of the film he gets a shock to the system that will rekindle his appetite for life, and force him to re-evaluate that choice.
The film has all the traits of the classic romantic comedies and it's constructed in a very classic way. First our two leads hate each other (well, she hates him anyway), then they warm up to each other and then they fall in love (all over again, as it were). It starts as a comedy, but then the stakes are raised and the story turns serious. Of course this means we also get those classic scenes we've come to expect from romantic Korean films. A touching moment where the two leads bond, played out against the rainy night, the 360 degrees camera move around the lovers and so on. Only the scene where the guy carries the girl home on his back is missing.
In terms of genre, "Reversal of Fortune" is clearly labelled as a romantic comedy, but actually this is not an entirely accurate description. Sure, it's very funny in places, but it's not THAT funny and it's kind of melancholic, even very early in the story. Which of course makes perfect sense, after all this film has a genuine message and it deals with some big questions in life. Am I where I'm supposed to be? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? In some ways the tone reminded me of Sliding Doors (1998) - which is a good film to compare it to, because it also deals that whole alternate reality thing. Though, of course, this being a Korean film it's a whole lot more zany than anything we can produce here in the West.
Now, I've said this before and I relish the opportunity to say it again: Ha Ji-won is the most beautiful Korean woman I know (for some completely unnecessary shots of Ha J-won look at the bottom of this page). Her appearance in a film is reason enough to watch it, and except for that monumental misstep that was "Dualist", she's never made a bad film. The scene where Ji-young bathes Seung-wan and breaks into tears because - well I don't want to spoil that, but suffice it to say, Ha Ji-won once again had me reaching for the jumbo box of Kleenex. And just watch her closely in those scenes where Ji-young puzzled contemplates her changed husband, suddenly caring and attentive, with a bewildered but approving look on her face. That smile she smiles will warm you from head to toe and linger long after the scene is over...
As films go it doesn't get more harmless than this, but "Reversal of Fortune" is still an enjoyable fare that might work well as a date movie.
It's nice to watch a light film that isn't completely devoid of relevance to the real world, or a high-concept film that doesn't get bogged down by the very concept that fostered its existence.
I could go on and list a million little reasons why "Reversal of Fortune" is good film, but how about I just leave you with one big reason. It's called Ha Ji-won. There's not really anything more to say, is there?
Note: I should point out that this is another one of those DVD covers that grossly misrepresents the film. The front cover consists of an image that bears no resemblance to any scene in the film, and the back cover features two images from a photoshoot which is not a part of the actual film.