Flashback-filled romance and coming-of-age friendship tale triggered by a radio DJ receiving the belated delivery of a letter from 23 years prior
A teen romance which spirals into much more, Unforgettable, also known as Pure Love on its local shores, is a film of two emotional halves. At first, a sun-tinged summer flick of young people doing what they do best – enjoying themselves and pushing the boundaries.
For Lee Eun-hee’s debut picture, our final act injects darker elements and pitches for the tear-jerking sniffles that despite youth bringing the feeling of care-free abundance, sometimes the real world has different plans.
We find ourselves in 2014 when a radio DJ receives a letter penned some 23 years before, from his first love. The impact of its content sends us back to its origin time of 1991 where we join the japing of five young teens spending a summer together.
Among this band of fun-seekers is the shy Beom-sil (Doh Kyung-soo – My Annoying Brother, Swing Kids) who has a rather more forthright crush on Soo-ok (Kim So-hyun – I Am the King, Killer Toon).
While he waits by the girl’s window like the lovelorn teen he is, Soo-ok later suffers a leg injury. At first this provides Beom-sil with the opportunity to connect with Soo-ok as he carries her around the island and love starts to grow between the pair. However, as the film progresses we slide towards an unexpected calamity that threatens everything.
The most startling aspect of Unforgettable is a colour palette which pops at every opportunity. Director Lee has made use of the picturesque island location and added splashes of vibrancy in multi-coloured umbrellas and flashy clothes. No opportunity of cinematography is evaded.
Another opportunity taken up by the rural island setting is to continue Korean cinema’s rural-urban battle, in this case a doctor from Seoul who finds himself vilified for his city arrogance by the islanders.
From a wide remit of cinema and K-Drama options broadly falling into the category of… beautiful young people who can act, we are well served by the performances of Doh Kyung-soo and Kim So-hyun here.
Much of the film’s success for the audience hinges on the impact felt from the film’s more emotional final act. Find yourself sitting on your hands and the film will pass you by, reach for the tissues and the film propels somewhere else. A reviewer’s cross to bear is that by sheer magnitude of cinema consumed, another tear-jerking romance with beautiful people feels a path already trodden.
The most pleasing elements of Unforgettable are not from the tissue-grabbing romance, including a set-to-be iconic beach umbrella scene, but rather the film craft and cinematography. For a debut feature, it shows a maturity and confidence that suggests that Lee will provide something in advance of Unforgettable in the future. For the time being, she has produced a sweet romance ditty here to keep the soft-hearted in gleeful sobs.