(Movie Review) Few words, no tragic twist, but Korean auteur Hur manages again to touch hearts |
By Shin Hae-in
SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- For many, it isn't for lack of affection or romance that first love fails. It's a matter of timing.
"A Good Rain Knows (Howusijeol)," a Korea-China co-production directed by Korea's leading filmmaker Hur Jin-ho, features two college sweethearts, hopeful yet hesitant about giving their romance another chance in a different place and time.
Dong-ha (Jung Woo-sung), an aspiring South Korean architect who goes to China on a business trip, runs into his college sweetheart May (Gao Yuanyuan), a Chinese woman with whom he had lost touch for years after their brief romance in the United States.
Recalling their good old days in the city of Chengdu in China's Sichuan province, the two are surprised yet delighted to find conflicting details in their memories -- a product of their decade-long separation.
With a flurry of returning memories and surrounded by Chinese cuisine and scenery, Dong-ha and May find their feelings slowly building again.
Now both in their 30s and mature enough to distrust initial feelings, the two are reluctant to believe what they had back then was really love and whether their emotions are ready to fully blossom again.
Their reunion is like "a good rain that knows when to come," a phrase from Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu's poem, but Dong-ha's three-day stay in China appears too short and abrupt, especially for May who appears to be hiding a sad memory she is not yet ready to share with her old love. Dong-ha, likewise unsure but the more determined of the two, extends his stay in China just one more day, asking May out on a long-delayed "real" date.
Hur, now in his late 40s, is renowned for creating refined yet touching love stories including "Christmas in August (1998)," "One Fine Spring Day (2001)" and "Happiness (2007)," which all portrayed the complex interplay of sadness and romance in relationships.
His fifth feature appears unique among his creations, not only for the exotic touch coming from the Chinese co-production, but for his choice to go light on the tragic and mournful aspect and instead focus on the hope and strength of love.
"In my past works, I focused on the emotions that come after the happiness love initially brings. In this movie, I wanted to reverse the process and talk about what happens after two people find each other again," Hur said during the film's Seoul preview Tuesday. "I hope the audience will remember something after this movie and have faith in love again."
The only catch in this tranquil film appears to be the somewhat stumbling English acting with the language unfamiliar to both Jung and Gao, two of the most popular performers from their countries.
But Hur manages to turn even the minor factor into strength, using simple dialogues that somehow maximize the unspoken feelings between the two characters. The supporting characters' desperate mix of three languages -- English, Korean and Mandarin -- also draws laughter from the audience from time to time.
Inspired by Du Fu's poem "Basking in Rain on a Spring Night," the movie blends different languages and cultures into a potent melodrama, and although the genre has underperformed in the South Korean cinema for years, it may prove to be the season's dark horse.
"A Good Rain…" was originally part of an omnibus feature "Chengdu I Love You" (Chengdu wo ai ni)," an homage to the Chinese city which was hit by a devastating earthquake in May last year. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival this year, the film was recognized for its commercial appeal and was developed into a full feature.
Co-produced by Korea's Pancinema Corp. and China's Zonbo Media, the movie will be released on Oct. 8 simultaneously in Korea, China and Japan.