CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST (1998)
A jovial photographer receives a terminal diagnosis and tries to contain his agitation at this fate as a new romance blossoms
While blending a premature death with a romantic liaison may seem a melodramatic stable, Christmas in August manages to steer into far more interesting waters in a subtle and lyrical manner.
It instead touches on that fury we can feel at facing an early death, something shown here in the more restrained outbursts of photo shop owner Jung-won (Han Suk-kyu).
Jung-won is kind, likable and good-natured, working in his shop processing photos, taking portraits and serving his community beaming from ear-to-ear.
Despite this appearance, Jung-won is getting over a recently failed engagement when a young parking attendant Da-rim (Shim Eun-ha) comes into his shop to process photos.
The pair click and as Da-rim increasingly frequents the shop, a slow build towards a meaningful relationship starts.
However, Jung-won has received news that he has a terminal disease and this flourishing relationship might be doomed before it has even started.
Facing an approaching death, especially for one so young, forces us to face the opportunities that we must acknowledge as soon to be missed.
In Da-rim, Jung-won has found just such an opportunity for a happiness that has been missing from his life to date.
You could not meet a more chipper character than Jung-won, but the mask starts to slip as anger about his approaching death drives him to distraction. There is a scene at a police station where Jung-won breaks down, uncharacteristically screaming at others in a fit of rage.
It is another bout of escalating annoyance which tenderly demonstrates this inner pain. Ask to put on a video for his father, he instead opts to show him how to load videos himself. All in preparation of his pending exit. However, when his father fails to gather the simple instructions, Jung-won storms out in fury. A simple and poignant demonstration of the unravelling of his personality.
It is a rarity for a romance film to have a parking attendant as a love interest, hardly the sexist of day jobs, but the way Director Hur uses Jung-won's photography adds a stylish depth to the storytelling, including some heart-breaking imagery.
Hur manages to achieve so much beauty and depth in simplicity, quickly moving scenes on and sparing details of his disease. It manages to break-free of the melodramatic elements which define romance films from the 90s and before.
“It struck me,” Jung-won recollects of an epiphany he had in childhood, “that we’d all disappear in the end, my father, my sister, my best friends.” This reality is something we all face, and this film arrives to remind you of just that.
A bittersweet treatment of death and a romance that will never be, Christmas in August is a powerful reminder of our immortality and the love we will eventually all lose.