Our Sweet Days of Youth
From the Bae Chang Ho Korean Film Retrospective Collection
Director: Bae Chang Ho
Release Date: May 2, 1987
Genre: Romance, Drama
Note: This description contains spoilers, but I must say that my words cannot do justice to film. You should watch if it is possible.
The setting is Yonsei.
The film opens with a woman raising her head and looking us squarely in the eye. She sports curls and wears a nightie against a dark backdrop with nothing but a table in front of her and the glow of a lamp.
She delivers a monologue to a captive audience. However, there is one gentleman with flowers that sits arrested by her sultry and personal tale of love.
The woman is Hye Rin. The man is Young Min. Hye Rin is an ambitious thespian. Young Min is a shy, withdrawn business major. Both attend the same school.
After the play, the scene settles on Young Min standing outside waiting for Hye Rin. He coaches himself on what to say. She walks past and he avoids her. She waits for the bus and he steps up to talk to her only for his voice to be drowned out and the bus to quickly skirt her away.
It cuts to the camera and it becomes the eyes for the next frames. It leads us as Young Min through vendor stalls searching his dad out. In conversation, his dad encourages him to get a job and get his head out of the clouds.
Another day passes and Young Min waits for Hye Rin. When she passes by, he pretends to need to tie his shoe then hops up to ask her out for tea. He stutters and she rejects him. He persists and she asks why does he need to talk with her? He asks for a little privacy in order to tell her.
Young Min meets Hye Rin at a restaurant. He is extremely nervous. He knocks over her drink as well as his own. Young Min decides to show her a play he wrote, and he explains that she saw the first and only play he was in. Through this dialogue she confronts him with his tokens of affection. Apparently, he has been at for awhile. He stutters and comes out that he has tried to write her "a dozen times after that but I never sent it. I also called you many times but I hung up as soon as you answered." She reacts without out much concern for his feelings wondering "So?" He then asserts that he loves her. He would like to marry her. He promises to make her happy. He smiles but he is pained when she laughs out loud at him.
Although Hye Rin has rejected him, Young min has his heart set on her. He wants to give her a present for Christmas but he witnesses her with another man - supposedly a doctor. He wants to take her to America, make her his wife, and show her Broadway. Hye Rin is very interested. Young Min enters and ends up making a fool of himself. Hye Rin notices his care and wishes him a Merry Christmas.
Young Min ends up getting a job and in the process stumbles upon Hye Rin on the subway. He's still in love with her, and he begins to pursue her again. He happens to get her to go to dinner, but she ends up getting offended. She slaps him and walks off. She confesses that her marriage ended poorly. It was a complete con. She ended up having to work a lot of menial jobs and never made it on Broadway. She felt cornered and reminded that her dream went up in smoke.
However, Young Min persisted with his true and humble heart won her over. As her frigid resistance melted away, and she came to love him. He still wanted her and wanted to marry her.
They eventually end up married. Their honeymoon is awkward. Young Min, being a virgin, is shy and clumsy, but they eventually share a tender kiss in the moonlight. A little later, the camera pans to his announcement to his father and friends that Hye Rin is pregnant. Young Min wants to do everything right. He is so gung ho, he marches into the office of the doctor reciting what he planned to do for his wife and child. The doctor is upset and chides Young Min. She exposes previous still born babies and how the pregnancy was a major risk for his wife. She could die.
Young Min goes home and as Hye Rin coos about expectation of the child and his impending fatherhood - Young Min collapses against her lap in tears. The doctor called her that day and explained that he visited. She tells Young Min not to be concerned. She wants to have the baby, and they should have it.
Young Min is a true Mr. Mom. He takes such good care of Hye Rin. However, the scene fades into one where the camera again becomes the eyes of Young Min. He frantically scrambles to the hospital and through it to find Hye Rin. He meets his dad, who is waiting, and out comes the doctor. A healthy baby girl, but his wife has had an aneurysm. Young Min stays with Hye Rin. She finally opens her eyes, tears fall, and she caresses her husband's face. Then she slowly fades and we take it that she has passed on.
The lasting impression of the movie is a scene in which a young girl skips through the park and approaches Young Min. It is his daughter, and she is budding little artist, like her mother predicted. He praises her and offers something to eat and drink. She says to feed himself while she works on her masterpiece - a drawing of her dad. The scene ends with Young Min leaning back with a faint nostalgic smile.
This movie is about a shy, awkward but good man who falls in love with an ambitious prima donna. Sadly, she is duped out of her dream, but through the persistence of love, her heart is stolen by the better man. She is humble and falls in love with his true heart.
Bae Chang Ho makes wonderful use of both his actors, music, settings, and camera effects. In key shots, he illustrates the difficult of Young Min to express himself. We see things through his eyes and his world at intimate moments such as his first meeting with Hye Rin and the birth of their baby girl.
In the scene of their first meeting, Young Min raises his glass, watching Hye Rin through it, and pours his beer. He then nervously gulps it down. This scene gave me the impression that he want to be intoxicated with the moment. He wanted to admire, relish, and take in the moment he had with her. The glass of beer was s metaphor for euphoria.
A pleasure of this film is to watch Young Min (though shy, awkward) confidently defend and pursue what he wanted. He stayed true to himself. In the process, he changes, but he changes Hye Rin even more.
At one point, his dad tries to set up an arranged marriage for him. He sets up the meeting and Young Min is called in to see him. He figures out fast what the meeting is about. This is the first time, you see Young Min's cleverness. He plays off the meeting like it is for his father to get married and uses his job as an excuse to leave.
His persistence leads to a chance encounter with Hye Rin later on the subway. It has been some time since they last encountered one another. She is still beautiful to him, and he pursues her. He gets her to go to dinner with him, and it is after he tells her that he has never forgotten about her and only wanted her to be happy that she ends up slapping him and revealing that her marriage was a con job. The man she married was a bum that dropped out of med school. She had to work menial jobs and she never got to shine on Broadway. She didn't want to be with anyone or marry again.
A bewildered Young Min swings on a swing as his dad comes riding by on a bike. The swing represents Young Min's innocence and his earnest attempt to deal with the pain of love and rejection.
He asks his father "Did you love mom a lot?"
His dad says, "I loved her very much." Young Min retorts,
"As much as the sky?" His dad asks if it's Hye Rin again.
Young Min says she's alone.
His dad remarks, you never got over her, and
he answers, "No."
It's at this moment that Ahn Sung Ki breaks down as Young Min. His tears are not exaggerated but soft, with a whimper. His dad cradles his head and comforts him. They are palpable, and you feel his sorrow, his longer, his eagerness to be free.
However, he can't let go. He keeps trying until she finally cannot resist his pure intentions and sincere affection.
They marry and she becomes pregnant. In the process of wanting to be a good dad, he learns that she has trouble having children before and this pregancy could mean her demise.
In one of the most tender and honest scenes I have ever seen on film, Young Min approaches Hye Rin as she is cooing about having the baby and that her hope is that the baby is just like him - a good and honest soul. He breaks down and lays his head in her lap. He doesn't want her to die, but she insists the baby should be born no matter what happens. Since he loves her so much, he doesn't coerce her to abort the child.
In the end, she ends up dying, but she gives birth to a beautiful girl.
The final scene does take the stinger out of her death because it uses the a similar scene (reviving viewer nostalgia) where he convinced Hye Rin to have dinner with him. Bae Chang Ho replays the same scene but this time using his daughter to reflect qualities of his wife. She is like Hye Rin - ambitious, focused, and outspoken. She tells her dad to eat and drink while she draws. It's a different sort of rebuff, but she appears to be much like her mother.
We are left with Young Min leaning back and fondly, I am sure, thinking of his wife. She may have left him, but he had her in his daughter. She gave him a beautiful gift.
Rating: A- Exceptional and natural acting by the principal cast; Good supporting cast; Not over emotional but subtle. If there was just one thing I could pick on the film for was the setting and set up of Hye Rin's death. It really is a sweet and lovely film, proportionate in everything.
- Young Min's dad is scouting for his wife with his friends. One of his friends says that Young Min wants a "slim and pretty wife." Another man says that "Looks don't last the marriage. She looks plain and homely like an old rice cake, and I bet she's a good girl inside, too."
- Young Min (writing a letter he never shares with Hye Rin): "That I think of you it will just form a background for you like the sun setting or the wind blowing,an everyday trifle If there comes a time when you wander in endless suffering, like the trifle you knew everyday, I will call out to you."
- Doctor (trying to seduce) to Hye Run: "Broadway is like a long night train racing without a pulling horse but with its light on through the dark night of this world and humanity."
- Young Min to Hye Run: "For the last 3 years, I never forgot about you even for a day. I know you were married to someone else already but the only thing I wanted was for you to be happy."