The cracks in the foundations of a recent marriage are exposed by a mysterious guest in Shin Taku-su’s marital parable, Fairy (요정, Yojeong). A marriage is necessarily a shared endeavour, but the central couple can’t seem to shift their mindsets from “mine” to “ours” while each pulled in different directions by unfinished business and external responsibilities. What their possibly magic visitor shows them is that their sense of competition is pointless when at the end of the day they could each benefit if only they committed fully to a shared future.
The central problem Cheol (Kim Ju-hun) and Ran (Ryu Hyun-kyung) have is that when they met they were both owners of cafes in a similar part of town. Now they’ve tied the knot, they’re still running independent businesses which are technically in competition with each other. Ran suggests that maybe they should amalgamate the cafes to focus on growing just one, but really she just means closing Cheol’s because it’s not as profitable as hers is. Cheol appears to go along with the idea even if not entirely happy with it while carrying baggage from his previous marriage along with a sense of emasculation in having moved into Ran’s home while supported by her business more than his own.
It’s after a brief argument about the business plan and Cheol’s ex-wife that the couple accidentally knock over a young man while driving home having had too much to drink. In order to avoid getting involved with the police, they take him home instead of the hospital but when he comes to the boy, Seok (Kim Sin-bi), only asks them if they can put him up for a bit and help him find work because he’s nowhere else to go. After Seok starts working at Cheol’s cafe it suddenly becomes successful much to Ran’s consternation while the pair’s relationship to him becomes increasingly exploitative even as they become something like a “family” living under one roof.
If Seok really is a magical spirit, it’s only made him unhappy as his presence necessarily sets people against each other. Unable to see that as a married couple they both benefit from a business doing well, Cheol and Ran begin squabbling over Seok and whose cafe he gets put to work in. Cheol’s unexpected success annoys Ran who is perhaps attached to the sense of independence she feels as a business owner while fearing that Cheol will come to take over her life if she ends up his assistant in his cafe. Yet the film isn’t intending to say that she should be subservient to her husband or that her anxiety is misplaced only that she is still insufficiently committed to the relationship to be able to trust Cheol with her future while he is also reluctant to accept the responsibility while dealing with the failure of his first marriage and a sense of damaged masculinity in being unable to play a paternal role to his daughter nor offer any meaningful financial support to the family he is now separated from.
While Ran agonises over Cheol’s desire to smooth things over with his ex-wife and daughter, her responsibilities are also split by her devotion to her older sister and her family which is only deepened when her brother-in-law is taken ill and her sister needs her help keeping their business afloat. As she discovers, however, familial relationships can also be exploitative both emotionally and financially even if the intent is not necessarily malicious. As Seok’s presence continues to divide them, it does eventually lead to the realisation that Ran and Cheol only have each other and should be pooling their resources into the shared endeavour that is their marriage despite the risks that necessarily come with that level of commitment. The marriage will only succeed when both partners are on an equal footing and working together towards a shared goal rather than anxious in their roles and responsibilities or constantly vying for the upper hand. A lonely being whether magical or not, it may be Seok who loses out in the end unable to find a place to accept him solely for who he is and not what he offers while ironically showing others the way to find the place to belong that he so sorely seeks.
Fairy screens in Chicago on Sept. 24 as part of the 15th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.
Trailer (no subtitles)