I was looking back
to see if you were looking back at me
to see me looking back at you
- Safe From Harm, Massive Attack
My cinematic memory of South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun was in macho action movies like JSA and A Bittersweet Life, so Once in a Summer appeals because I am curious to know how he would do in an out and out soppy romance, released in time this month for Valentine's Day. And the verdict is yes, it will hit the right spots with the romantics out there, but even as I rolled my eyes at the formula employed for a romance, I was won over by its hard hitting ending, and moments as described in one of my favourite songs (as above).
Lee plays a rich man's son Suk-young, in times of great turmoil when university students, unhappy with the state of affairs in the country, are planning to go on a protest. He joins his friends on their travels to a remote village, in order to escape from his strict father, and needless to say, that summer he'll begin his romance with one of the village girls Jung-in (Su-Ae), the village librarian.
And thus begin the wonderful shots of beautiful landscapes which drapes the relationship between our lovebirds, and the usual events that lovers go through. It's not easy and smooth sailing though, as Jung-in comes with emotional baggage and proves to be hard to get. But you won't get too bored though with his frequent pursuit, as the narrative also takes a glimpse into the lives of the villagers, as they experience new technology like moving pictures, and electricity.
Once in a Summer takes on a dual timeline running concurrently, and the flashbacks and forwards are quite nicely edited without any jarring moments. The soundtrack proved to be memorable as well, though these are techniques so familiar and now deemed necessary in making a romance movie. If the formula isn't broken, why fix it - and even right up until the ending, though I'd like to offer a different take. So what follows is a spoiler, which I thought is what made this movie a classic, and allows it to transcend its "same-old" label.
Love is a powerful emotion, but denial of your loved one is an big unforgivable sin. In denial, you would have destroyed every shred of credibility that you have. And I felt extremely down watching that scene, when it takes the other party to realize just what you've done, all down to the cause of self-preservation, but he/she knows and understands. It takes a lot to acknowledge the fact, and even more so to play along. Love is not what words are said, or things that are done, but more so as what is sincerely inside. If you really truly love someone, self-preservation would be the last thing on your mind, though some may argue that what was done was necessary to hope that all ends well.
So when one party has decided to move on after the huge disappointment, it's heart wrenching for both parties, but perfectly justified.
All in all, a highly recommended romance movie with all the necessary ingredients for that date, and filled with an ending that would probably linger on after the movie has well ended (making it good for that after-movie discussion as well).