Korean Movie Review – Christmas In August.
I know it has been a while since I have posted new content to Brent’s World! I would like to apologize to my faithful followers for the lack of content, I am working on several technical blogs that will be posted in the future, in the meantime let’s grab some popcorn and discuss an older Korean film that I recently had a chance to see. The film, Christmas In August was actually recommended to me by a taxi driver in Seoul who was driving me to the train station after I mentioned to him that I was moving to Gunsan city, as this is where the story takes placed, and it’s filming location. Strangely enough this was one of the harder film reviews I have had to write! There was so much I wanted to say about the film, that I ended almost finishing a 3 page synopsis before realizing that left as is, you may not feel you need to watch the film.
The film written and directed by Hur Jin-ho and was released in 1998 centers around Jung-Won Yoo (Hanh Suk-Kyu) a middle-aged photographer and camera store owner in Gunsan City who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or spending his remaining days in reckless abandon, he goes about his life as if nothing has changed. He chooses to only tell his father (Shin-Goo) and sister, and one of his closest friends from elementary school, (and this is told to him only as a joke.).
Da-Rim (Shim, Eun-Ha), a traffic enforcement officer with the Korean National Police meets Jung-Won when she needs film quickly developed when needed for evidence. While initially put off my Jung-Wons closed nature. They strike up a conversation when he tries to make amends by bringing her an ice cream while she waits outside in the hot Korean Summer. She then makes it a point to come by the store more and more and they strike up a close friendship.
Jung-Won, while obviously having feelings for Da-Rim does not want to bring heart ache into her life with a romance that will soon end with his passing. Though this ends up causing her pain because she feels her feelings are not being returned.
We see the passage of time in the changing Korean seasons, and through the progression of his illness through several hospital visits, and the preparations Jung-Won makes for his death. Such as teaching his father how to use the VCR, and writing step by step instructions on how to operate the developer in his store, and the final act of writing a final letter to Da-Rim, letting her know that even though he did not show her love in the present, that his love for her is everlasting and that he thought of her in his final moments.
The movie chooses to not judge Jung-Won for his decision to withhold his looming death, nor does it really resolve the feelings of love each character has for each other. We are not even made aware the letter is ever delivered, as the addressed letter is shown being placed in a box of the photographs, he took of her and placed on a shelf in his shop.
It was a well-done film, and delicately explores the subject of how one must reconcile the final moments in their life once discovering their time is soon coming to an end. For the foreign film buffs, it is an interesting glimpse into Korean social customs dealing with courting, love, and the aging process in Korea, as depicted through the “memorial” photo.
As with most Asian films, there is no clear-cut resolution, we do not know if the aging father is able to keep the store open, just that he drives away on Jung-Won’s scooter with his prized camera. Da-Rim comes to the store in what look like cloths worn at a funeral, though she does not approach the father to engage him in conversation. We do know she read his letter, as she smiles as she recalls a poignant passage from it. So, the viewer is left to come up with their own conclusions.
This was a good film, and a big departure from the latest action, or action comedy movies that are big now. It had a wide fan base in Korea and Singapore and is stll used as an example in cinematography courses at Korean Universities.
If you are looking for a different style of romantic drama, I would highly recommend the film. It is also an interesting look into the media technology of the 1990s such as photo stores, film developing, land line telephones, and VCRs to name a few.
Once you watch the film, please head on over to the forums and discuss it. www.catracing.org/hendrb/forum.
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