Review: Happy Old Year (2020), A Charming Little Story About a Woman Doing a KonMari on Her Cluttered Home and Love Life

Being a creative writing teacher, I am a firm advocate that the beginning and ending of any narrative piece is crucial. This little English lesson has also permeated into many areas of my life, including my love life: how one begins and ends a relationship is also significant. I was at the tail end of a seven-year relationship with a girl who two-timed me. I knew it was game over and I had a choice: I could make it really bad for her or I could let her go gently. I chose the latter. I was not under the illusion I was a saint – when a relationship breaks down, both parties have a part to play. On our last date, I brought her to the exact spot where I confessed my love for her seven years ago, a bench outside a lecture theatre at National University of Singapore, and we had a heartwarming time chatting and reminiscing the great moments we shared together. Thinking back, I thought it was the most fitting way to end a relationship that both of us have put in so much and it was a good emotional closure for both of us. It was a farewell that gave us hope and set us free to love again. 

In the Thai movie Happy Old Year, while Jean (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is doing a major decluttering of her house to convert it into a home office, she finds some items that belonged to Aim (Sunny Suwanmethanont), her ex-boyfriend. Three years ago, Jean just packed up and left the country without giving Aim a reason. Their relationship never did have an emotional closure. It may be time to do the right thing now.

You wouldn’t be faulted for catching some zany rom-com vibes and you would be utterly wrong. Just like writer-director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s Heart Attack (2015), Happy Old Year is marketed like a rom-com, but it isn’t in the strictest sense.

The movie is divided into chapters, each detailing an aspect of decluttering. The KonMari’s method seems easy on paper: anything that doesn’t spark joy just say “thank you” and throw it away. It is easy when the things are irrelevant, but it gets tough when they are tied to a memory. This is where the movie soars – its examination of the elusive concept of memory, its selectiveness and how it is tied in an ironclad bond to histories and emotions. Thamrongrattanarit shows us the different ways we deal with painful memories through Jean, her mother and all the other myriad characters. Jean seems ruthless, wanting to follow a strict timeline to get everything out and give the home a minimalist look, while the mother is resolute with her selective amnesia in not wanting to change the status quo. The scene where Jean and her mother get into a heated argument is especially poignant and heartbreaking. 

How expositions and plot details are doled out is immaculately handled. Even the music has a minimalist feel which ties in to the theme of minimalism. The possibly rekindled romance is but a part of the whole story and I wouldn’t even say it is the spine. The typical rom-com arc of “will they or will they not” takes a backseat as the scenes of Jean and Aim play out in surprising ways. 

The topic of memory is prone to be mishandled, but Thamrongrattanarit’s hand is assured as he delves into the different notions of the elusive concept. Through all the storytelling, he even gives the movie a spellbinding minimalist vibe and makes it compellingly relatable. The characters feel lived in and authentic. I was rooting for Jean to get the emotional closure she doesn’t know she needs, just like me.

Rating 4 / 5

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