Thursday, March 19, 2009

Unforgettable love

A Moment to Remember is a Korean-language film starring the charming Son Yeh Jin. Clearly inspired by such tragic love stories as Mandy Moore's similarly titled A Walk to Remember, A Moment to Remember takes the viewer up into the clouds of romantic bliss before plunging them meticulously down to the depths of heartbreaking hell.

[Warning: The following may contain spoilers! Catch up here.]

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The story begins with Kim Soo Jin (Son Yeh Jin) leaving the train station in tears. On the way home, she drops by a local convenience store to buy a Coke. After walking out of the store, she realizes that she forgot to take her drink. She returns to the store and bumps into Choi Chol Soo (Jung Woo Sung), who is walking out with a Coke in hand. She glances over the cashier's counter and doesn't see her own Coke. Assuming that this stranger has taken the Coke that she just bought, she grabs the Coke from his hand, chugs it down, burps in his face, and walks away, leaving him bewildered.

Again on the way home, she realizes that she also forgot her wallet at the store. Returning once more, the kindly cashier greets her cheerfully. "You must have been in a hurry," he says with a smile, pulling her wallet and Coke out from behind the counter. Soo Jin's eyes widen as she realizes the mistake she just made...

As it turns out, Soo Jin had been waiting at the train station to run away with a married man (who used to work with her). Returning home, she finds a father's forgiveness and a job as a men's fashion designer. Her father works as a construction site supervisor, and while waiting for her father one day she catches sight of the Foreman, storming away in anger. It is Chol Soo, from whom she had stolen the Coke days earlier.

Through this set of coincidences, love begins to blossom, and a happy romance comes into play. However, when Soo Jin's loving father asks to meet her boyfriend, trouble ensues again. His shock at finding his subordinate sitting at Soo Jin's table turns quickly to anger.

Soo Jin excuses herself to use the ladies room, but sneaks out of the restaurant on her own. Stumbling aimlessly in the rain, she blacks out from stress and anemia. Hearing the commotion outside, Chol Soo races to the scene and carries Soo Jin to the hospital at a sprint. Having witnessed the strength of love between Soo Jin and Chol Soo, Soo Jin's father accedes to the relationship between them. They are married shortly after.

The love between them burns brightly, and Soo Jin finds herself glowing from day to day with thoughts of her husband. Their life too, seems headed down the right track as Chol Soo earns his architect licence, moving up in the career world from labourer to professional. Together they struggle through issues of Chol Soo's troubled past, such as his estranged mother, and work to build a home and future for themselves.

Yet in the background, Soo Jin's forgetfulness, which helped the two to meet in the first place, is steadily getting worse. She admits to her friends that she has begun to have difficulty finding her way home at night. They chuckle, chiding her, "He must really wear you out every night."

As a casual precaution, she visits an eccentric-looking doctor to see if something could be wrong with her. He asks her some questions, then tells her to return for a CT and MRI. Meanwhile, her ex-lover returns to his position as her boss. She shrugs him off and continues to work diligently.

The test results come back with devastating result: Soo Jin has a rare hereditary form of early onset Alzheimer's disease. At 27-years-old, she is slowly going senile.

A mental death will come before a physical one. Better prepare yourself for what's inevitable. Medicine can slow it down... Hah, but that's about it. Do you work?

Yes...

You should quit right away. Soon you won't be able to type or answer the phone let alone organize things. Pretty much nothing. You will forget your family, friends and even yourself. All your memories will disappear completely.

Really, this is terrible beside manner - dumping such a heavy burden upon Soo Jin without warning, then providing no follow up support.

Soo Jin keeps the diagnosis to herself, but quits her job. Her husband is more than happy to care for the both of them, and does not question the decision too much.

Soo Jin's forgetfulness begins to manifest increasingly in her daily living, and she weeps secretly in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Chol Soo becomes curious of the doctor's test results after Soo Jin lovingly packs him a lunchbox but forgets to include anything but rice.

He goes to the doctor and receives the news with disbelief. His disbelief turns to anger - anger at the callous way in which the physician had told his wife the news.

Are you crazy? Why the hell did you tell her everything?

I'm a doctor. She needs to prepare for what's coming.

The doctor's wife had also died with Alzheimer's, and he had spent more than half his life researching the disease to no avail.

Chol Soo confronts his wife and swears to stand by her. Yet Soo Jin's memory steadily fails her, including a heart-wrenching incident where her ex-boyfriend comes to visit her at home, only to have her believe that they are still together and still in love... her memory of Chol Soo is obliterated. Chol Soo goes to see the doctor again...

She doesn't recognize me anymore.

She doesn't? I know how that feels but don't let it eat you up. It's the recent memories that go first. That's what Alzheimer's does. No point blaming the patient.

...Looking straight into my eyes, she calls me by the name of her ex-boyfriend... and she says, "I love you." Who does she really love?

Meanwhile, Soo Jin, in a moment of clarity, realizes what she has done. Torn with guilt over the pain she has caused Chol Soo, she writes an earnest letter of her undying love to him, and leaves him to seek help from her family. In their time together, Chol Soo had never said the words, "I love you." But, Soo Jin concludes, she knows deep in her heart that he does.

Chol Soo goes to Soo Jin's father and pleads to see her, but this is clearly not her desire. Time goes by and Chol Soo receives one last letter from Soo Jin in one more moment of clarity. Though she tells him not to seek her out, he does so anyways, finding in her a home where she is attended to full-time. Remorsefully, he realizes that she cannot recognize him at all, and introduces himself to her again. As they sit down to eat, she notes the familiarity of his scent, yet becomes frazzled as she fails to produce the memory. Chol Soo watches in tearful agony.

In one last attempt to jog Soo Jin's memory, he brings her to the convenience store where they had first met. He steps out, Coke in hand. She pauses in front of him, and gently touches the lid of the Coke, but then walks inside. There, in place of the cashier is the eccentric doctor. Instead of the janitor, is Chol Soo's mentor. And standing beside the rows of snacks, are her family. She turns to Chol Soo in sudden recognition and asks, "Is this heaven?" "Yes," he replies.

While the moment of clarity lasts, they take off on a drive in Chol Soo's jeep. Determined not to miss this moment again, he turns to her...

"I love you."

She grips his arm and leans on him, affection and joy on her face. Fade to black. /tear

A Moment to Remember provided a moody but beautiful romantic tragedy, illustrating the truly frightening scenario of losing your loved one to dementia (à la Notebook). While none of the major plot elements are particularly original, they all come together elegantly.

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While I did deeply enjoy the emotional ride this movie takes the viewer on, I have to privately admit that the whole incurable disease arc is a prototypical Korean drama plot device. In fact, through all their blissful happiness, I could smell the tragedy coming from a mile away (and was dreading it). But maybe that's because when I glanced at the plot summary, the words "Alzheimer's" popped out at me like a badly groomed poodle in a plaid shirt. This despite the fact that the diagnosis of Alzheimer's didn't come until halfway through the movie. They really need to stop writing these things on the back of the video box.

I give them credit, though, for taking the time to build up a romantic relationship that you actually cared about. When things plummeted to the depths of hell, it was actually horrifying. Too often in Asian television are romances briefly kindled (for serials, often for one episode) for the express purpose of evoking an emotional response. In situations like these I often groan, "Alright, I can tell this character is going to die next episode."

They also avoided conventions such as the "rival" (i.e. love triangle, quadrangle, etc.), glowing flashbacks of a couple's immensely short history together, and needless shovelling (though movies seldom have enough time to seriously shovel). In fact, the more I talk about this movie, the more I like it....

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For an entertaining take of Korean drama conventions, you should definitely check out Mad TV's amusing parody (featuring the talented Sung Kang of Better Luck Tomorrow fame) titled "Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive."


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.