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'April Snow' sticks to Yonsama's image

2005/08/25 | 664 views | Permalink | Source

Love, betrayal and guilt are some of the feelings movies are particularly adept at conjuring, but things get tricky when the three elements are lumped together solely for one big star. How do you evoke the inner life of a deeply troubled man and his equally distressed, secret lover when what the audiences want is just an innocent smile of the star actor?

"April Snow", directed by Heo Jin-ho, adopts the same melodrama formula of "Winter Sonata", a runaway television hit series that touched off the boom for Korean pop culture, and, more importantly, catapulted actor Bae Yong-joon into almost mythical fame in Asia.

The original Korean title of the movie is "Oechul", roughly translating into "Outing". Its English title "April Snow", however, is much more closely related to the movie's core idea. In Korea, it's quite rare to see snow falling in April, so the title suggests a hopeful message that something miraculous might soothe an ill-fated couple and consummate their Forbidden Love.

The movie starts with In-su (Bae Yong-joon) heading for Samcheok, a seaside city on the east coast in Korea, upon hearing the news of his wife Su-jin's (Lim Sang-hyo) car accident. As his wife undergoes an operation in a hospital along with Kyung-ho (Ryu Seung-soo) who was also in the accident with her, there he meets Kyung-ho's wife Seo-young (Son Ye-jin).

While Su-jin and Kyung-ho struggle to regain consciousness due to serious injuries, In-su and Seo-young find out their respective spouses had an extramarital affair together.

The trusted love falls apart, and feelings of betrayal and anger set in for both In-su and Seo-young. Somewhat predictably, the two characters, who struggle with sadness and pain, begin to form an emotional bond as they start their long-term stay at a local motel to attend to their respective spouses.

Though it's just a movie, it is fairly unrealistic that the grief-stricken man and woman meet repeatedly. They happen to buy the same sleeping pills at a drug store, they come across each other in every corner of the hospital.

Adding to the disappointment of those who expect something more than actor Bae's "look-cool-and-sexy" posturing in the movie, most dialogues are too simplistic. When Seo-young asks what In-su will do when his wife returns to consciousness, his reply is "I will take revenge on her". Seo-young's reply is equally lame: "What about us having an affair? That will certainly surprise them when they regain their consciousness". Do we need this extremely obvious explanation about the plot by the main characters themselves?

Romantic symbolism also runs short of expectations. Seo-young gives a flowerpot to her lover as a gift, saying "Don't kill it". In-su says, "I will take care of it well", reassuring her. Unfortunately, nothing happens in relation to the flowerpot. No dramatic revelations whatsoever that might put some symbolic meanings upon their guilt-laden romance.

Even the much-publicized sex scene doesn't have any substance. The movie's promoters feverishly stressed that the main sex scene took nine hours to film, suggesting that exposure level might be higher than normal.

But the actual bed scene between In-su and Seo-young is far from explicit. The camera mainly zooms in on their faces and necks while they make love, and it is puzzling why the director spent so many hours to take such a simple, boring shot.

Perhaps a clue might lie elsewhere. In a news conference held in Seoul on Wednesday, a Japanese reporter said she was much relieved after watching the sex scene, implying that female Japanese fans do not want who they fondly call "Yonsama" to engage in an explicit sex scene because they want to preserve Bae's innocent, sweet boy image.

It is understandable that the film revolves around Bae's visual images. After all, Bae is one of the most recognizable stars in the region, and the cornerstone of the Korean Wave that continues to charm Asians.

But the movie does not get out of the small area in Samcheok. The twisted love affair between In-su and Seo-young takes place mostly in the not-so-trendy Samheung Motel or not-so-cutting-edge Samcheok Hospital. The images surrounding the motel and the hospital are not visually inspiring, much less romantic.

This is more troubling than what is touted as "uncontrollable love" between the main characters. The shooting locations of "Winter Sonata" are now tourist attractions, catering to mostly Japanese and other Asian fans who are deeply in love with Yonsama. "April Snow", however, features primarily the shabby motel and the rundown hospital, both of which are unfit as tourist attractions representing romantic love (You may check out the restroom of the In-su's motel room where Seo-young is forced to hide to conceal their love affair).

Given the movie's weak narrative drive and mediocre visual impact, it will be almost a miracle to watch the movie as something other than a silver-screen version of Bae's photography collection.

In all fairness, it's inevitable that talented director Heo has to focus on the trademark facial expressions of Bae (either an innocent smile of a child who finally gets a sweet candy or a sadness-tinged stare when the gift is taken away). After all, not doing so is tantamount to a "betrayal" for countless Asian fans who have uncontrollably fallen in "love" with Bae without feeling any "guilt".

By Yang Sung-jin

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