As the subtitle helpfully notes, "Late Spring" is the time of year when people try to convince themselves that it's not really summer yet. That's certainly true for Joon-goo (played by Park Yong-woo). The year is 1969, the dictatorship is in full swing, and Joon-goo, an artistic sculptor, appears to be losing his motor coordination abilities. The man simply doesn't have much to look forward to anymore. So his wife Jeong-sook (played by Kim Seo-hyung), attempts to lift his spirits by hiring young mother Min-kyeong (played by Lee Yoo-young) as a model.
Initially it's not terribly clear how Min-kyeong is supposed to be able to help. It's obvious from the first glance Joon-goo takes of her naked body that Min-kyeong is a weak, spindly woman who's had to endure miserable discomfort and tragedy for no particular reason. Take particular note of her husband, Geun-soo (played by Joo Young-ho)- a pathetic, abusive cripple who knows exactly how pitiful he is, and consequently falls into impotent rage over practically anything.
Life stinks, in other words. And that's where we find the beauty. "Late Spring" is a bittersweet elegy to the abstract concept of art with refreshingly little pretension. While Joon-goo and Min-kyeong are able to find some joy in the time they have together, it can't overwrite the poor circumstances of their lives. To the contrary- it is only because of their miserable situation that Joon-goo and Min-kyeong are able to truly appreciate art in the first place.
It's tempting, for example, to fall in love with the lavish cinemagoraphy on display here. The entirity of "Late Spring" take places in an isolated countryside where, true the season, everything is brighly colored and in full bloom. While the lakeside cabin commands the best view, all of the scenery looks great. Then in one brief moment near the end we see what this picturesque scenery looks like at night and, well, it's not as wonderful. And yet we can't have bright sunshine without dipping into nightfall.
It's through statements like these that the film also explores what drives people to create art. A late storyline event initially comes off as horrible and tragic. But the question "Late Spring" quickly brings up, and which Joon-goo dutifully answers, is whether or not he actually cares what happens to his work. By the end we see him construct his own dirge. Note in particular who his words are addressed to, and why.
While many films about artistry lapse into pretension, "Late Spring" absolutely excels in presenting Joon-goo as a man whose artistry is very much concerned with the real world. Even if, ultimately, Joon-goo is only trying to manage a temporary reprieve from it. Lee Yoo-young as well puts in an excellent performance as the shy young muse, rounding out a cast that's mainly concerned with personal motivation rather than artistic expression. Even as the ending inspires mixed emotion, what's all too clear is that the main fortunate people of this world were the ones who had the chance to see and understand beauty. That may not be much, but it's enough.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Late Spring""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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