By Joon Soh
Given all the hype surrounding Bae Yong-joon
, it would be easy to assume that the new movie "April Snow
" would be nothing more than a lightweight cinematic vehicle for the mega-popular actor. After all, Bae even sports the shaggy-haircut-and-glasses look that's suspiciously similar to his fashion sensibilities in "Winter Sonata
", the TV melodrama that made housewives all over Asia swoon and propelled the actor into superstardom.
But once one looks past the (probably intentional) evidences of Bae's commercial appeal, he or she will find a film that's surprisingly complex and vastly different from the cardboard sentimentality of "Winter Sonata
". Within the first half hour, it becomes plain that it's director Heo Jin-ho
, not Bae, who is setting the tone for "Snow".
With films like "Christmas in August
" and "One Fine Spring Day
", Hur has become one of the masters of the drama genre, and he certainly doesn't disappoint here. Known for weaving tightly choreographed love stories that are slightly off-kilter, Hur decides this time to push his characters far over the edge. The result is his darkest and most emotionally elusive film yet.
The movie opens with a beautifully shot image of a near-blind drive in a snowstorm, which, given the characters' desperation, turns out to be an apt analogy for the entire film. In-su (Bae), a lighting director for concerts, is called away from his job in Seoul to a small-town hospital where his wife (Im Sang-hyo
) lays in a coma after a car accident. There, he meets Seo-young (Son Ye-jin
), whose husband (Kim Kwang-il
) was in the same car and is now also comatose.
Soon, it becomes obvious that their respective spouses were having an affair with each other before their car crash. This fact at first produces shock from In-su and Seo-young, but that reaction is followed quickly by a melancholic resignation that shows they both may have already had their suspicions.
In-su and Seo-young are then left to their private hell of grief and anger, which plays out in the near-empty hospital and their separate motel rooms. (Curiously, very few family members or friends are around for support.) Gradually, In-su and Seo-young begin to gravitate towards each other, first to exchange information about their spouses and later to look for an outlet for their emotions.
What they find in each other, however, is hard to pinpoint. At times, their relationship seems a substitute for grief counseling, while at other points it seems similar to love. Then again, as In-su hints at during one conversation, perhaps they're out for revenge.
" is as uncomfortable and fascinating a film to come out of the domestic movie scene this year as any, and very different from what might have been expected from the combination of the star actors and director.
Credit goes to Bae for signing up for a film that may not necessarily go over well with his throngs of fans. With "Untold Scandal
" two years ago and now this film, he has chosen two challenges rather than resting on his commercial laurels. The same, in fact, could be said for Hur, whose two previous films were both solid box-office hits.
Despite the draw of Bae and Son, however, "Snow" might end up being too grim to have longstanding mainstream appeal. That would be a shame because the level and complexity of emotions Heo succeeds in bringing out here is some of the best that the drama genre has to offer.