“Betrayal is betrayal” according to a jaded grandmother (Park Hye-jin) reading a children’s story that’s clearly not for children to a curious little girl in Jung Ha-yong’s extremely dark comedy, Anemone: A Fairytale for No Kids (아네모네, Anemone). Later someone asks what the difference is between treachery and betrayal before conceding there might not be any, but whatever betrayal is there’s certainly a lot of it going around as a winning lottery ticket causes discord between an otherwise unhappy couple, their friends, relatives, and just about everyone else.
As the grandmother relates reading to the little girl, Yongja is a wife and mother of one who once had an illustrious career as a martial artist and is now an aspiring children’s author. Her husband, meanwhile, is a no-good layabout and the family is in constant financial difficulty dependent on Yongja’s part-time job in the kitchen of a bar. When she has a dream about winning lottery numbers, she writes them down and tells her husband to buy a ticket before going to work. Hearing the draw on the radio, she realises she’s won and abruptly walks out on her job getting into a physical altercation with her boss as she goes, but on arriving home her husband seems confused. Eventually he admits he forgot all about buying a ticket but Yongja doesn’t believe him and is convinced that he’s stashed it somewhere and plans to keep the money for himself.
That would obviously be quite a big betrayal, but maybe not all that difficult to understand given the relationship dynamics in play between the obviously unhappy couple. Sending their daughter to her grandmother’s, Yongja goes to great lengths torturing her husband, making him wear a nappy and trying him to a rocking horse, in an effort to get him to reveal what he’s done with the ticket only to threaten murder suicide when he continues to say he can’t give her what he never bought. Just as we’re starting to feel sorry for him, and to be honest the constant “did you or did you not buy the ticket” conversation goes on for an incredibly long time, the husband manages to escape, expanding the search for the ticket across the wider area while Yongja ropes in her gangster brother and his dodgy friend to come to her aid.
The ticket appears to have exposed the cracks within the family unit which are largely attributed somewhat uncomfortably to a misalignment of gender roles in which the husband is feckless and useless while Yongja essentially bullies him and is consumed by a sense of resentment that she is forced to shoulder the financial burden of supporting the family. The words the grandma reads from the picture book are often at odds with the reality, presenting Yongja as having achieved success with her children’s books but showing her dismissed by an editor who ironically points out the story’s not suitable for children. The grandmother further explains that poor people buy lottery tickets because it’s their one source of hope for a better life, no longer believing they have any possibility of improving their circumstances independently, which is perhaps the case for Yongja who hopes the money can help them fix their “train wreck of a family” for a happier future.
Then again it may be the ticket that betrays them in proving so elusive. Because of the ticket, Yongja is forced to realise that she doesn’t trust her husband and that she is right not to because he is indeed keeping something from her. Other people she can’t trust include her brother’s shady friend while he is also a liability preventing her from calling the police because there’s a warrant out on his name. The problem is that everyone wants the ticket from themselves, except perhaps for Yongja who had obviously intended to use the money for the family as a whole though it seems unlikely that a simple injection of cash could fix these toxic relationships or restore their happy home if that is ever what it was. Fairy tales are often dark and this is no exception though the reason a child shouldn’t read it is not because it’s crude or violent but simply because it would crush their tiny spirit with the overwhelming disappointment of life.
Anemone: A Fairy Tale for No Kids screened as part of the 2022 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.