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'Love So Divine' embraces light romance

2004/08/07 | 538 views | Permalink | Source

Forbidden Love can be the most passionate - and the most destructive. An affair between a priest and a young, beautiful girl is very likely to spark controversy in the Catholic Church. But "Love, So Divine", released nationwide yesterday, does not have such "controversial" elements.
In the film, Kyu-sik (Kwone Sang-woo) is an exemplary theological student. In a month, he will be ordained and become priest, a dream he has pursued for years. But God throws him into an embarrassing situation: Because of his trouble-making friend Sun-dal (Kim In-kwon), Kyu-sik makes a grave mistake during a formal ceremony at church.

The school authorities order the two to spend a month at a small church in a remote village, offering them a chance to restore and strengthen their commitment.

But things don't go as planned, especially when the priest-to-be in question is terribly handsome - actor Kwone is Korea's top-rated heartthrob and his popularity is literally soaring.

When Kyu-sik happens to meet Bong-hee (Ha Ji-won), a high-spirited young woman who had just returned from the United States to capture the love of her boyfriend, something mysterious is at work.

Bong-hee, it turns out, is a niece of the kind-hearted priest (Kim In-moon) who manages the small church in the countryside. At first, Kyu-sik does not have any romantic feeling toward Bong-hee. Rather they fight with each other while working for the church. But eventually they, well, develop some intimacy.

From this point on, it is awfully easy to predict where the story will go. Director Huh In-moo seems to know the danger lurking in this plot, so he opts for some comic scenes to sidestep what might be objectionable.

At a press preview, Kwone feverishly argued that the film has been well received by Catholics, suggesting that its theme and characterization are benign and even inspiring for local churchgoers.

Perhaps so. There are, of course, no provocative or sexual scenes that might anger Catholics in Korea. Compared with the controversial film, "The Crime of Father Amaro", where young Father Amaro is having sex with a local girl and helps her find an abortion, "Love So Divine", is devoid of any such content whatsoever.

The argument about Forbidden Love and sacrilege is possible only when the main character is a priest, however. Kyu-sik is not a priest yet, and it is hardly surprising that some seminary students give up their intent to become priests for personal reasons. So, what's the big deal if Kyu-sik falls in love with a beautiful girl and decides to find a new path in his life?

In theory, Bong-hee is supposed to develop an infatuation for the handsome young priest-to-be, whose unavailability makes him irresistible. But the fact of the matter is that Kyu-sik seems quite available.

As a light-hearted romantic comedy, the film makes clever use of "Deo Gratias", a Latin phrase meaning "thanks be to God", Kyu-sik repeats the phrase when he prays, and explains to Bong-hee that it may well sound like a secret code. "This is how we thank God, and we do it in a sort of secret way because we tend to be shy about saying 'I love you' in front of others", Kyu-sik says.

Love, the movie implies, is a secret thing that is shared by only the couple who deeply understand each other. Bong-hee comes to realize the real meaning of Deo Gratias later in the movie, which helps bolster the otherwise dull storyline.

Is the film harmful to the church? Absolutely not. Rather, the church actively assisted in the production of the film. As many as 1,200 Catholics joined the film as extras in the scene showing a majestic ordination ceremony. The film also presents details of the Catholic Church, including upbeat performances by the choir. These elements are expected to appeal to Catholic viewers, something that apparently pleased Catholic leaders in a specially prepared preview.

The problem is that the movie is so sanitized that it's very predictable - and even boring. It avoids tackling real questions that should be asked about today's Catholic Church in Korea. Instead, it relies way too much on Kwone's popularity to promote ticket sales.

Worldly desires can cloud our minds, and it appears that the producers' worldly desire for commercial success may have clouded theirs, distracting them from more important issues.

Accordingly, Deo Gratias should be appreciated for its relatively short running time. If the film lasted more than two hours, it would be more tortuous than real Forbidden Love.

By Yang Sung-jin

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