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Pleasant `Springtime' Lacks Focus

2004/09/23 Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter

The Chusok holidays are when family-oriented films tend to dominate local theaters, and this year looks to be no different. Putting in its bid for the Chusok crown is "Kkotpinun Pomi Omyon (Springtime)", a sentimental melodrama about music and love.

In a return to the screen after his brilliant performance in last year's "Old Boy", Choi Min-sik plays a character that requires much more serenity and softness than his usual angst-ridden roles. Hyon-woo is a classically trained trumpet player whose talents haven't taken him where he wanted to go in life. Unable to find a job with an orchestra, he ends up teaching part-time at an academy. His personal life isn't any better, as he constantly argues with his mother and his ex-girlfriend, whom he still has feelings for but can't commit to.

Dissatisfaction with his surroundings eventually leads Hyon-woo out of Seoul to a small town, where he takes a job as the band teacher at a local middle school. The job is a modest one, with the music program in danger of folding if it doesn't do well in the upcoming national competition.

But despite the numerous obstacles, Hyon-woo seems to take to his new job and also the slower-paced life. Indeed, the trumpet player seems almost like a new man, someone who has found a purpose, and he gradually connects to the townspeople, especially the pretty pharmacist Soo-yon (Jang Sin-young), and Jae-il (Lee Jae-eung), a student in the band with a difficult home life.

Though "Springtime - Flower Spring" definitely aims for being a sentimental feel-good movie, there's a quietness to the film that keeps it from becoming too syrupy. First-time director Ryu Jang-ha previously worked as writer and lighting director on such quiet melodramas as "Pomnalun Kanda (One Fine Spring Day)" and "Palwolui Christmas (Christmas in August)", and he brings that same melancholy restraint to this film.

But this same restraint keeps "Springtime" from ever finding a direction. The film gives nearly equal weight to all the different narrative elements in Hyon-woo's life _ his transformation into a better person, his changing relationship with the townspeople, and the growth of the school band _ resulting in a pleasant enough but somewhat underdeveloped story.

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