South Korea has the unfortunate statistic of having the highest suicide rate among all 30 OECD countries. Over forty people a day take their own lives, and the reasons behind such tragedy are complex to say the least. As such, suicide often features within Korean films although it tends to occur organically in the narrative, due to mistreatment or illness for example. Enter Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들), a film that places the intentions of suicide as the central concept of the narrative. Bizarrely, Suicide Forecast promotes itself as a comedic exploration of the macabre subject matter, yet in reality it’s more of a dramatic foray. While examining the oft-ignored subject of suicide through film is to be commended, the rather superficial nature of the narrative renders Suicide Forecast somewhat impotent.
Bae Byeong-woo (배병우, Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) is a retired professional baseball player, now working in the world of insurance. He is ambitious and driven, yet his constant desire for money upsets his girlfriend Lee Hye-in (이혜인, Seo Ji-hye (서지혜) resulting in a break-up. Simultaneously, Byeong-woo is accused of helping a client commit suicide and fraudulently claim life insurance through exploiting a loophole in the contract. As he reminisces about his position in life, Byeong-woo recalls that two years prior he, in order to become the best salesperson, sold life insurance policies to four suicide survivors. According to the contract, should they die within two years of signing the contract they will receive nothing; but with the deadline approaching, Byeon-woo must try and convince the policy holders to switch to a retirement plan or else the company will lose a fortune. Yet upon meeting his clients – unemployed divorcee Oh Sang-yeol (오상열, Park Cheol-min (박철민), widowed mother-of-four Choi Bok-soon (최복순, Jeong Seon-kyeong (정선경), poverty stricken young musician Ahn So-yeon (안소연, Younha (윤하), and Tourette’s suffering beggar Kim Yeong-tak (김영탁, Im Joo-hwan (임주환) – Byeong-woo’s selfish motivations begin to change.
Suicide Forecast is similar in nature to the family-friendly films of Jim Carrey, such as as Liar Liar (1997) and Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011). Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) is never as flamboyantly excessive as Carrey, but the generic career-man-learns-the-importance-of-compassion is present and as predictable as ever. Carrey however always brings charm and charisma to such roles conveying that his protagonists are never bad but misguided, features which Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) is considerably lacking in Suicide Forecast to the point of being incredibly unlikeable. Byeong-woo may well be the top salesperson but his arrogant, selfish, inconsiderate and disrespectful manner are difficult to ignore. The premise is sound and has plenty of potential – that a man fixated by consumerism must seek out and stop those intent on suicide, learning something in the process – yet it takes a long long time before Byeong-woo’s character remotely alters due to the plodding second act. His clients are all interesting and compelling protagonists, each with their own hardships that are conveyed poignantly but never slip into sentimentalism. It’s a real shame that these characters were not developed further than the relatively superficial portrayal of their lives, as they are the foundation upon which the narrative is formed. While the subject matter may be somewhat macabre, the narrative consistently attempts to inject light-hearted comedy moments to halt the descent into bleak territory. The jokes generally succeed although they tend to highlight further character flaws in Byeong-woo, and as such the comedy is often flat.
Suicide Forecast is competently directed throughout by Jo Jin-mo (조진모), particularly in the more dramatic sequences in the third act as time runs out. It is here that the acting capabilities of all the cast are displayed, especially Ryoo Seung-beom (류승범) who conveys intensity as he struggles to reach his clients in time. The predictability, and the lack of character development (and thus empathy), does slightly undermine his performance however. Additionally, Byeong-woo’s instant transformation of character from shrewd insurance salesman to compassionate friend requires something of a leap in disbelief considering his earlier behaviour. Despite the cliches, the finale is touching with the moral message that – given a chance and encouragement – those suffering from the hardships of life can shine. It must also be noted however that the bizarre incorporation of Byeong-woo’s former career as a professional baseball player is forcibly shoehorned into the film, and serves to dramatically detract from the core plot.
For tackling such an important and delicate issue within Korean culture, Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들) must be commended. The potential of a comedy-drama exploring such themes is enormous, which perhaps explains why the narrative appears to be intimidated by the subject matter and the ‘comedy’ aspect tends to fail. The suicidal client’s are compelling despite their general lack of depth, and the predictable finale is still heart-warming. Suicide Forecast (수상한 고객들) is an interesting take on a pertinent and often ill-judged element of society that, while cliched and predictable, offers a poignant reminder that greed and consumerism does not equate to happiness.