Friday Flicks is a one of our Periodicals, in which we decided to start up because of our love for Asian cinema.
What we do with Friday Flicks will be similar to what other websites do with film reviews, except we won’t give a grade or score. Rather, we will tell you what we like and what we don’t like about the film. Our main goal is to spread the awesomeness of Asian cinema, creating new fans and introducing new films to existing ones.
We plan on talking about films from all across Asia (including Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, The Philippines, etc), both old and new. We basically want to make Asian film fans out of you.
One last note: These reviews will have minor spoilers. We intend to not reveal any major plot twists or story lines. Yet, a movie review is nearly impossible to do without talking about about the story even at little.
That being said, let’s get the show on the road!
This week’s Friday Flick: Christmas In August
Christmas In August
- The film has been remade in Japan under the same name, but Shim Eun-ha’s role as a traffic officer was changed into that of a teacher.
- The film enjoys an enduring fanbase throughout Asia and is often used as an example for teaching screenwriting and cinematography.
- Based on their roles in this film, Shim Eun-ha and Han Suk-kyu are referenced as the ideal casting choices by the aspiring script writer and titular “girl” in the blockbuster My Sassy Girl.
A story to be told
The story of an altogether unexpected romance between a photography shop owner, Jung-won – played with stoic dignity by the eminent Han Suk-kyu – and a traffic officer, Da-rim – portrayed with exuberant grace by the inimitable Shim Eun-ha.
The two start out as strangers, barely knowing each other and with little reason to interact. But the trajectory of their seemingly unconnected lives slowly settles into an easy synchronicity. Developing naturally over a series of brief encounters, as they share ice creams and soda, and umbrellas in the rain.
However, from the outset it is made apparent that Suk-kyu is suffering from an unknown illness which leaves him precious little time to live. Determined not to let his impending demise undermine the remainder of his life, he resolves to see through his existence in a way that causes the least amount of trouble for those around him. Quietly managing preparations for his eventual departure – such as writing down meticulous instruction to teach his elderly father how to use the VCR, or ensuring to take a final trip with his friends and take a few last photographs – the film captures the everyday details inherent in ushering out an ordinary life, well lived….. and those inevitably left behind.
Points to be made
The debut work of master director Heo Jin-ho, many of the enduring themes and motifs from his rich ouveur can be traced back to stem from this original masterpiece. Leaving an indelible impact on
Unfolding like a series of still photographs brought to life, the director seeks to capture perfect instances in time that must remain forever unchanged in our memories. False nostalgia perhaps, but a comforting memory of bygone days to help us on our myriad journeys towards uncertain futures.
Attention is paid to every meticulous detail and the audience is invited to glimpse through the window of these characters’ lives and settle right into their familiar routines. While nothing of great consequence or seeming significance unfolds on camera, it is the quiet moments moments in between that the director pieces together to present the everyday details of a life – much like any other, unlike any other.
This is a film built on silences and stolen glances, where volumes are extolled with a single look. The director, scriptwriters and cinematographer work hand in hand to ensure that it is the words left unspoken that weigh in the air more heavily than any lengthy monologue.
The audience is made privy to the possible beginnings of something more between two errant souls whose lives intertwine and wander in tandem for a time. While the exact name of the illness which plagues Jung-won remains unclear, the mere knowledge of the inevitable separation it will cause leaves an indelible impact on the audience, who are left powerless to intervene and must simply watch the promising budding of this would-be romance, knowing full well how it must inevitably lend.
The film runs the danger of digressing into weepy melodrama, but the director assuredly steers it towards more steady waters. This is a simple tale of ordinary individuals simply playing the cards life has dealt them as best they can. Rejecting grand declarations of love and teary farewells for unvoiced affection and absent goodbyes – without fanfare or grand applause – it offers an uncompromising glimpse of the everyday reality that awaits most.
While those behind the camera do much to ensure the audience appreciates the story which eventually unfolds, in the end, this is a film very much constructed around the two central performances. It is assuring therefore to note that veteran Han Suk-kyu and (then) relative newcomer Shim Eun-ha shared an easy chemistry and fulfilled their roles with exemplary dignity and simple grace. They embodied their characters completely so that the audience is left utterly convinced of their behavior and the actions they would take in dealing with the predicaments at hand – whether it be weeping quietly into a pillow in sorrowful resignation, or throwing a stone through a window in frustrated protest. These are not actors fulfilling roles, but real people whose lives we have simply been privileged to glimpse, for a brief instance in time.
All the pieces in this production come together to form the cohesive whole, that can perhaps best be summed up in a single scene of our two would-be lovers getting caught in the rain.
Da-rim encounters Jung-won without an umbrella, and offers to walk him back to his store, jokingly proclaiming that her services do not come free and that she expects him to buy her a cup of coffee in return. Da-rim takes great pains to ensure that Jung-won is adequately covered, while she herself gets wet. But Jung-won eventually takes the umbrella from her and holds it over them both protectively. They progress through the rain saying nothing more, but Da-rim’s stolen glances and secret smile say it all.
Establishing in a single take the template for the most idealized romantic encounter – sharing an umbrella in the rain – this set the bench mark in Korean romantic cinema that has been payed homage to ever since… A film endlessly emulated, but yet to be surpassed.
“I knew that someday love would become nothing but a memory, like the countless photographs left behind in my recollections. But you alone have remained a part of me. I leave these words to thank you for letting me depart with your love…” – Jung-won.
Watch this film if…
…you have ever found yourself caught in the rain without an umbrella, hoping for someone to come along to save you – or someone for you to save…