Soo-ho (played by Kim Tae-yong-II) is a young boy living with a terminal illness- although on a day-by-day basis he's still healthy enough to do things like go to school and do the cooking for his widowed mother Eun-joo (played by Jung Jae-yun). For all this, Soo-ho still feels his life is incomplete. When Soo-ho meets Yangming (played by Yang Fan) at his favorite park, Soo-ho hatches a scheme- to turn this handsome Chinese man into the father figure he's always wanted.
The child logic behind "Polaroid" might make some of you bristle- should the movies really encourage kids to enact romantic fantasies? But the reasoning at play in the movie is on more solid footing than it may initially seem. Soo-ho is right about one thing- Yangming's appearance at Soo-ho's favorite park was no coincidence. And if we accept that much as reasonable, could it be that Soo-ho is right- that Yangming's appearance was destiny, and a chance for Soo-ho to know what it's like to have a father?
That all is so corny that I feel a little ridiculous writing it. And there are definitely moments when "Polaroid" strains believability by going deliberately for the melodrama. It's obvious from the very beginning that Yangming's errand has some sort of more direct relationship to Soo-ho and his mother. And yet Yangming very quickly forgets about this errand just so that he can play house with Soo-ho and Eun-joo. Yangming even explicitly states that bonding with Soo-ho really helps salve his mental state.
Again, the corniness is pretty severe. Yet for all these missteps, and the way that "Polaroid" is deliberately designed to evoke tears and maximize emotional blowback...I was surprised to find there was quite a bit to admire about this movie. The performances, for one thing. All three of the leads are very much real people- Soo-ho is cute if overbearing, Eun-joo is clumsy and relies on her own son to do the housework, and Yangming is having an identity crisis.
The characterization is never particularly deep but that's the whole point. All three of these characters are trying to live life on their own terms rather than just wallow indefinitely in grief. And it's in this context that Soo-ho's attempts at playing matchmaker are actually very helpful. Eun-joo and Yangming don't actually need to get together. What they need is a reminder that they're not horrible people who deserve the divine scorn of tragedy. A romance based on human trust rather than sexual attraction is the best way to get through that.
There's plenty going on in this production I could criticize- the camera's not very well handled, and some shots are just plain awkward to look at. Some moments get to be a tad saccharine. But looking over in total, the strengths outweigh that. Before the plot catches up with the characters, the sentiment is quite sweet. And even after the plot problems, there are enough heartbreaking moments to warrant genuine empathy. Everything about Eun-joo's comic book, for example, was utterly beautiful. That's how the titular camera works too. This is a movie about accepting and cherishing the images of bygone days, whatever the present day reality may be.
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] "Polaroid""
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