The opening to "Be with You" is a cute animated story about a penguin mother who has gone away to the cloud country, but returns home for one last stretch before finally leaving again forever. The book's author, Soo-ah (played by Son Ye-jin) gave the book to her elementary school aged son Ji-ho (played by Kim Ji-hwan-I) shortly before her death. Ji-ho religiously anticipates the circumstances under which Soo-ah will return while his now single father Woo-jin (played by So Ji-sub) tries to hold the household together.
"Be with You" is based on the Japanese novel and film of the same name. As an obvious fantasy piece, it's little surprise that Ji-ho's childish belief in the book's literality ends up being correct. Eventually an explanation is given for the mysteriously prophetic penguin book. It's a pretty powerful one too, that delves into the ways in which love is a conscious decision, even if we don't realize it. Soo-ah's presence looms largely over Woo-jin and Ji-ho even in death, because they allow her to.
Soo-ah's physical presence in the movie is a metaphor for the emotional presence that's left behind by beloved departed family members in the real world. While obviously a love story, "Be with You" is principally a story about chaste family love. Yes, there are some epic kisses in here, but so much of the love Woo-jin feels for Soo-ah is wrapped up in how she is the mother to his son. When Woo-jin sees Soo-ah interacting with Ji-ho, it's like he's falling in love with her all over again.
Through flashbacks, we get to see that happen too, from Woo-jin and Soo-ah's first meeting in high school, and their tumultuous courtship afterwards. The full story is adorable, because we constantly see the nervousness at play in trying to approach the person you like. This nervousness is actually quite reassuring, since it implies sincere intentions. Which makes the final elimination of that barrier the ultimate expression of true love.
There's also a lot of mundane love, expressed not in moments of epic climax, but in day-to-day life with Soo-ah. From the first we see of Soo-ah there's something in her semi-serious semi-playful manner that just feels so intimate. The way Ji-ho simply accepts every little quirk his mother has is dreamlike. The most minor gesture by Woo-jin resonates with romantic power because every action on his part, however unconscious, is motivated by a love for family.
Did I mention that the performances here are truly excellent? Because they are. On a conceptual level "Be with You" requires a critical level of subtlety. We're told right from the beginning what the ending will be, so the plot is far less important than the way story is told. Which is fortunate- long runtime notwithstanding, "Be with You" has no subplots to speak of. The closest we get to that are the frequent lapses into simple comedy. The jokes are quite good by the way. What with all the tears the ending provokes, that's an easy factor to forget.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Be With You""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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