While on the subway young college student In-ha (played by Park Hae-il) witnesses a curious sight- Hee-jae (played by the late Jang Jin-yeong) takes the lead in getting a passed out drunkard to sit up, so a pregnant woman can sit down. It's an act of kindness that's striking precisely because Hee-jae isn't expecting any kind of reward for her good deed. Her sole motivation is a desire to be a decent human being who takes a stand for moral principle no matter how uncomfortable or even dangerous the situation may be. Hee-jae's chrysanthemum scent is, to In-ha, "The Scent of Love".
Their love story is, initially at least, a little long-winded. Actually, I'd go so far as to write that In-ha veers dangerously close to stalker territory when by chance he meets Hee-jae again. Even so, this works to establish a baseline. As co-workers at a summer camp, In-ha gets an intimate firsthand view as to how Hee-jae operates. This stirs in him a strong desire to give her comfort, reassurance and protection. While a tad paternalistic, In-ha's sentiment is admirable.
It also becomes very important when a tragic event leaves Hee-jae internally crushed to a far greater extent than she is willing to admit. At that point, only a man of In-ha's determination is capable of reaching through to her. Because In-ha knows how Hee-jae will act in a crisis situation, he has absolute unwavering faith in her value as a human being. That his judgment remains steadfast having not even met Hee-jae for several years only goes to show that In-ha really does know the real Hee-jae.
"The Scent of Love" is useful mainly as a case study for why certain kinds of romantic melodramas have such visceral appeal when the actual plot sounds kind of corny. Love, in its truest most idealized form, is what In-ha feels for Hee-jae. It is not based on superficial appearance or personality traits, but in the strength of another person's human spirit. In-ha loves Hee-jae because he wants to encourage her to be the best she can be.
And in a weird way, the melodramatic format is in many ways more realistic than a traditional drama because the script acknowledges drawbacks. At the end of the day, Hee-jae is not superhuman. She can't overcome all measure of death-defying feats simply by trying really hard. This penchant for self-sacrifice is what attracted In-ha to Hee-jae in the first place, so when it signals their separation, In-a can't even be mad or hate her, because that's just who Hee-jae is and always was.
There's a real sort of dreamlike quality in that, being able to love a person so much that no amount of tears can defeat that emotional power. By the end, In-ha is able to accept Hee-jae's fate not through force, but because he has faith in her. Or more specifically, In-ha has faith in Hee-jae's own ability to steadfastly believe in him, the man who could love her at the absolute lowest point, and will continue to show that strength of character long after she's gone.
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] "The Scent of Love""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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