I do not mind those “disease of the week” flicks as long as they are engaging enough for me, but South Korean film “Cassiopeia” does not do its job that well as your average disease of the week movie. While I was distracted a lot by numerous plot contrivances throughout the film, it was also difficult for me to accept its main characters because they are more or less than tools to squeeze lots of tears from us, and I only came to observe its story and characters from the distance without much care or attention.
At first, the movie deliberately disorients us as showing its heroine’s increasingly confusing daily life. Soo-jin (Seo Hyun-jin) is a divorced female lawyer who has lived with her only daughter Ji-na (Joo Ye-rim) for a while since her divorce, and she really needs someone else to take care of her daughter as recently becoming quite busy with her works. Her father In-woo (Ahn Sung-ki) willingly comes forward to take care of his dear granddaughter, and Ji-na does not mind this at all, but both of them often find themselves baffled and frustrated with how Soo-jin becomes rather erratic at times. Sometimes she is quite nice to them, but then she becomes rather edgy and harsh, and, above all, her mind often seems alarmingly forgettable.
Anyway, Ji-na will soon be sent to her father currently living in US, and Soo-jin tries to prepare her daughter as much as she can, but then she belatedly comes to learn of what is really happening to her after one very confusing incident. When she is subsequently examined at a hospital, it turns out that her brain is actually going through the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and this bad news certainly devastates both her and her father.
After her daughter leaves for US, Soo-jin tries to maintain her status quo as helped by her father, but, as already warned by her doctor, her medical status only gets worsen day by day. She becomes much more forgetful than before, and there eventually comes a point where she has no choice but to admit to her boss and colleagues that she cannot work anymore due to her illness. While her father still stands by her as before, she tries to get accustomed to her situation, but, not so surprisingly, she cannot help but feel angry and scared as frequently reminded of what will inevitably happen to her.
Around that point, we are supposed to care more about this grim situation of hers, but the movie fails to develop Soo-jin as a real human figure to hold our attention. While Seo Hyun-jin surely tries a lot for conveying to us her character’s increasing fear and confusion along the story, Soo-jin remains merely defined by her illness without much human detail, and a subplot involved with her problematic law firm is heavy-handed at best and manipulative at worst as pushing her into more panic and anger.
On the opposite, Ahn Sung-ki, a legendary South Korean actor who has steadily continued his long acting career during last several decades, is supposed to function as a stable counterpart to his co-star, but, unfortunately, he does not have many things to do except looking sad or concerned. While frequently emphasizing his unwavering dedication to his daughter, the movie does not delve that deep into In-woo’s rather estranged relationship with her daughter in the past, and we never feel like getting to know more him or his daughter even in the end.
In case of several substantial supporting characters in the story, they are also rather flat and underdeveloped on the whole. While In-woo’s best friend and his wife are no more than background elements, Ji-na is just your typical precocious little girl, and the movie becomes all the sappier as Soo-jin and In-woo try to hide Soo-jin’s illness from Ji-na as much as possible. In case of a part involved with a facility for Alzheimer patients and their caretakers, the movie brings a bit of realism as expected, but this part only comes to set the ground for another blatant moment of emotional manipulation later in the story, and that is followed by a series of plot contrivances for giving us a big tearjerker moment.
I must say that I was rather flabbergasted by many glaring failures of the movie because it is directed by Shin Yeon-shick, who wrote the screenplay for Lee Jook-ik’s “DongJu: The Portrait of a Poet” (2015) and later directed “Roman 8:37” (2017). While the former was a humble but undeniably poignant biographical drama film about one well-known South Korean poet, the latter was a small religious drama movie which engaged me more than expected, and both of them were often interesting in terms of story and characters. In contrast, “Cassiopeia” frequently annoyed and bored me as failing to bring any genuine feeling or insight to its story and characters, and several key scenes associated with the very title of the movie only made me more aware of its artificial aspects.
In conclusion, “Cassiopeia” is inferior to a bunch of better films out there, and my mind has already been rummaging out the best moments of these good movies. While I was touched by the calm but aching sadness felt from “Away from Her” (2006), I remain haunted by a number of devastating scenes in “The Father” (2020), and I also appreciate several poignant moments in “Iris” (2001), “The Notebook” (2004), “Memories of Tomorrow” (2006), and “Still Alice” (2014), which are rather sappy in each own way but are still much better than “Cassiopeia” nonetheless. All of these films really impressed me a lot with their respective human qualities, and I sincerely recommend you to watch any of them instead.