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ONCE IN A SUMMER (Geuhae yeoreum) (Korean)
  Publicity Stills of "Once In A Summer"
(Courtesy from GV)

In Korean with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Joh Geun-Shik
Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Su-Ae
RunTime: 2 hrs 1 min
Released By: GV & Festive Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/asummer

Opening Day: 1 February 2007

Synopsis :

A beautifully-shot, heart-warming love story starring Lee Byung-hun (Everybody Has Secrets, JSA) who embarks on a quest to find out what happened to his first and only love (Su-Ae), who had mysteriously disappeared years ago. When still in college, Suk-young (Lee) then traveled with student volunteers to a remote village in the countryside in an attempt to escape the supervision of his strict father. He met the beautiful Jung-in (Su) there, and it was love at first sight. However, as the summer drew to a close, the couple faced a challenge to their willpower.

Movie Review:

We always joke about the predictability of Korean love dramas. The use of symbols, the bittersweet end, usually brought about by the death of one of the protagonist by some sudden dilapidating disease or disappears, is almost a must have. I suppose you could look at it that way that inherently all Korean romances are doomed, and ultimately boring. But that would be unfair.

The beauty of such films lies in the way the story is told. Credit must be given to the Koreans for coming up with a thousand and one ways of telling this same story. And though Director Joh Geun-Shik’s Once in a Summer may not be the saddest or the most brilliant film to come out of the Peninsula, it possesses an alluring, almost poetic-like sensibility. A simple and sentimental love story that works.

The characterisations of the main leads are by no means two-dimensional. The fragile and beautiful Jung-in (Su-Ae) struggles with continuing loss and tries to fit into a village after her once pioneering parents defected to the North. And we feel for the handsome Suk-Young (Lee Byung-Hun) who charms his way into the sweet girl’s heart but later forced to renounce his love. The movie truly belongs to these two actors, who have made it their own. The audience is captivated, both by their funny and charming courtship and by the harsh, sudden and maddening break up by government and family.

The dichotomy between rural village and the urban center of Seoul is used to great effect. The pair court in a carefree and slow moving countryside. “Ten days are forever” indeed. Though it takes up more than half of the film, we are never bored and never tire at the sweet little moments the two share. The sudden and heart-wrenching turn of events (in less than 20 minutes!) that eventually separate (and reunite) the couple maybe a tad exaggerated, but serves as a reminder that it all takes just one small circumstance to ruin an otherwise wonderful and good thing.

Admittedly, I found the disappearance of Jung-in to be a true mystery. The device has been used in countless films, where loved ones separate themselves to protect the other, and it never bothers me. I would usually just brush it off. But here, I have difficulty deciding if it was a weak point of the drama. Here is Jung-in, possessing a second chance at a happy ending and yet she chose the harder, more painful route. There were so in love! They could have eloped or done something else! Why?! We do silly and foolish things when we are in love, even when it hurts or pains us. I never found myself wanting movie lovebirds to be together before. Oh well.

In many films of this genre, predictability may be the word du jour, and Once in a Summer is no different. However, it benefits from some clever writing and the film is filled with small, memorable and magical moments. These are one of the strongest points of the film. The simple but revealing resolution will leave your heart heavy but warm.

Movie Rating:

(Almost Perfect)

Review by Darren Sim

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