Anchored by another intense-o performance from the indie actress Vera Farmiga, Never Forever is a compelling cross-cultural romantic melodrama that asks the question: Is paying a stranger to impregnate you really an act of love toward your sterile husband - who desperately wants a baby - or a sign of deep-seated marital doubt?
That's quite a question, and Never Forever is quite a movie - fevered, erotic, outlandish. Farmiga stars as Sophie, the blond, blue-eyed wife of a successful Korean American businessman (David McInnis). The couple live in plush digs just outside New York City and seem to have everything - except a child. Spurred by the prayers of Sophie's mother-in-law and the family's Christian Korean priest - and by an act of profound despair on the part of Sophie's husband - Sophie takes the extreme, and stalker-ish, step of meeting with a would-be sperm donor she had encountered by chance at her fertility clinic.
Jihah (Ha Jung-Woo) is an undocumented Korean living in New York's Chinatown - working at a dry-cleaner and a butcher, and scavenging furniture off the street. After following him home, Sophie makes this handsome, taciturn man a proposal: I'll pay you $300 every time we have sex. If I become pregnant, I will give you $30,000.
The deal is a go. So Sophie and Jihah meet, and copulate, in his walk-up apartment. And the relationship, inevitably, starts to change. Sophie finds safe harbor from her loneliness and longings, staring deeply into the eyes of this other man. And Jihah's sexual and fiduciary needs are subsumed by something new: love.
The work of South Korean filmmaker Gina Kim, Never Forever has the steaminess of pulp and the stateliness of art. Michael Nyman's elegant chamber score provides an undercurrent of restraint and suspense, Mathew Clark's cinematography is crisp and clean, and Farmiga and Ha bring scary commitment to a scenario that could have simply been cheap, and exploitative.
In the end, Kim adds a scene that's too Hollywood by half, but at the same time, it's an understandable choice. The filmmaker, like the audience, has grown to care for these characters with a force that surprises.
—Steven Rea (May 2, 2008)