Lena (played by Park Gi-rim) is a Russian woman of Korean descent. For reasons her own, Lena agrees to a marriage contract with Soon-goo (played by Kim Jae-man), a rural farmer in South Korea. Soon-goo has his own ambiguous motivation. Past pain has made Soon-goo ambivalent to the idea of a wife, and when Lena arrives, he only reluctantly lets her into his home out of a sense of obligation. This obligation is not externally forced, but rather relates to Soon-goo's own personal sense of honor.
"Dear..Lena" is a sad story about two basically decent-hearted people who are satisfied with what they have in life and would rather just enjoy living in peace in the countryside than engage in any kind of serious plot. As several months pass we see little real change in the lives of Lena and Soon-goo, as they seem perfectly contented to just live together as chaste friends easing a sense of loneliness that both feel is now unavoidable.
They do go on dates. And given that they live in the middle of the countryside of course they end up going to...Buddhist temples. It's funny because it's accurate. The countryside lacks much in the way of creature comforts yet quiet beauty abounds nearly everywhere. Much like the rural environment where it's set, "Dear..Lena" settles for beauty rather than ambition, with the main major events being minor life changes like Lena finding a comfortable pair of pants.
What Lena and Soon-goo have together is not a passionate romance, but rather the inner peace of being able to live a life on their own terms without much in the way of stress. There's a lot to admire about this, especially as we find out more regarding Lena and Soon-goo's backstory and see just why it is they're not in the mood for any kind of serious drama. Their simple lifestyle has a lot of appeal, and it's easy to see why Lena and Soon-goo seem satisfied living this way forever.
Even other characters are present in "Dear..Lena" less to provide conflict and more to provide a certain level of background to the community in which Lena now lives. There's other immigrant women, a farmer friend of Soon-goo, a photographer who's around for the same reason as director Kim Do-won- there's beauty out in rural areas that ought to be captured.
And yet photographs alone do not do justice to the sad quiet beauty that abounds in "Dear..Lena". The atmosphere provides a portrait of hope marked not by discreet promises or events, but rather by slowly settling into an everyday life that feels normal. By the end of the movie, Lena has become fully comfortable with herself as a woman of Korea, having at long last learned what it was about the country that her family remembered with such fondness. In this way "Dear..Lena" demonstrates how happiness can flow even from the bittersweet, as we see how lucky Lena and Soon-goo were to have gotten the chance to know each other.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Dear..Lena""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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