Hopeless Poses a Fascinating Moral Dilemma

Photo courtesy of Well Go USA

What would you do if you had to choose between sacrificing your conscience and sacrificing your well-being and happiness? It’s an age-old question that goes back to long before the dawn of cinema, and it’s provided grist for countless storytellers throughout human history. Now, I don’t know about you, but I find that quandary endlessly fascinating, so when I first heard about Hopeless, I was instantly intrigued. This film poses a nearly impossible moral dilemma for its main character, and I couldn’t wait to see how it would play out.

Hopeless was written and directed by Kim Chang-hoon, and it stars Hong Xa Bin, Kim Jong-soo, and Song Joong-ki. The story centers around Yeon-gyu, a teenager with a pretty rough life. His town is riddled with crime, his step-father beats him, and his step-sister is harassed by some of her classmates, so he dreams of moving to the Netherlands with his mother to get a new start.

However, he doesn’t have the money to do that, so one day, he falls in with some local loan sharks. They start Yeon-gyu off with small jobs, but as his boss comes to trust him more, the kid is given increasingly dangerous assignments. He finds himself forced to suppress his conscience more and more, and he eventually becomes so entrenched in this criminal underworld that he’s not sure he can ever get out.

Right off the bat, Hopeless had me totally hooked. As I said, I love seemingly impossible moral dilemmas, and this one is about as good as they come. To begin, the acting in this movie is excellent. The entire cast is spot-on, so I could probably write a whole article just praising their performances.

A woman looking serious
Photo courtesy of Well Go USA

But in the interests of time, I’ll only highlight two standouts. First, we have Hong Xa-bin. He plays Yeon-gyu, and he makes you believe that this kid’s life is a living hell. Everything about him—from his mannerisms to his facial expressions, and even the way he often slumps his shoulders and bows his head—gives off a vibe of complete exhaustion. You can just tell that life has beaten every ounce of joy out of him, and it’s utterly heartbreaking.

That’s the best performance in Hopeless, but the runner-up isn’t too far behind. Song Joong-ki plays the kid’s loan shark boss, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was a criminal in real life. Everybody in this crew comes across as totally menacing, but Song Joong-ki takes it to another level. He adds an unflappable calm that makes his character even more intimidating, so he’s absolutely terrifying whenever he’s on screen.

Those great performances lay a solid foundation, but the real heart and soul of this film is Yeon-gyu’s descent into criminality and the moral dilemma it poses. On the one hand, you know that what he’s doing is wrong. Hell, Yeon-gyu knows it, and as his work becomes increasingly heartless, he starts to struggle with it.

He tries his best to do his job without hurting anyone, even to the point of suggesting a few nonviolent ways his team can achieve some of their aims. But those options aren’t always available, and when he has to hurt people, you can see in his face just how much pain it causes him.

But on the other hand, as the movie’s title suggests, Yeon-gyu’s situation really is hopeless. To take just one example, there’s a scene where his stepfather beats him with a baseball bat, and the guy hurts him so bad he has to get stitches on his face. He’s scarred for life (literally!), and if he stays put much longer, there’s no telling what will happen to him.

A man looking down
Photo courtesy of Well Go USA

Yeon-gyu just has to find a way out, so as bad as the loan sharks are, you can’t help but sympathize with the poor kid. As I said before, this dilemma is fascinating, and seeing Yeon-gyu slowly lose his humanity is just as captivating as it is harrowing. It’s the kind of story you simply can’t look away from, so even though Hopeless is about two hours long, the minutes fly by in what feels like a blink of an eye.

Last but not least, I want to talk a bit about the violence in this film. Surprisingly, there’s very little of it, but the few times these characters do go for blood, they can get pretty intense. In particular, there are a couple of moments involving fingernails that are almost guaranteed to make you squirm, and they’ll do it with a minimum of gore.

All that being said, I have to acknowledge that Hopeless isn’t quite perfect. The movie doesn’t give us much to complain about, but there is one thing that rubbed me the wrong way. At the very end, there’s a fight between two of its main characters, and even though it looks really cool, I didn’t buy it.

The whole situation could’ve been avoided if either of the combatants had just said something, but instead, they let their fists do the talking. It feels entirely contrived just to add one last bit of action, so it took me out of the film a little.

But in the grand scheme of things, that’s basically a glorified nitpick. On the whole, Hopeless is a fantastic crime thriller driven by an enthralling moral dilemma and a bunch of amazing performances. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen all year, so if you’re looking for something good to watch, I highly recommend that you check this one out.

Hopeless is set to hit VOD on June 25.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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