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If you’re into Asian movies even just a little bit, then you’ve probably heard of the South Korean drama “April Snow” at least once (or a few hundred times, give or take) throughout 2005. The film has been hyped every which way across the Asian continent, and its leading man practically sold into servitude to promote the movie. It’s made a megastar out of Bae Yong-jun (“Untold Scandal”), who is currently the hottest male in all of Asia , as well as being the delight of “aunties” everywhere. Mostly lost in the shuffle is co-star Ye-jin Son, a veteran of Korean melodramas despite her youth, and director Jin-ho Hur, one of the best filmmaker currently working in Korea today.
“April Snow” traces the aftermath of a car accident that leaves two lovers in a coma. The problem is that both are married to other people, namely concert light guy In-su (Yong-jun) and housewife Seo-young (Je-jin). Gradually, over the course of a few weeks, the two strangers come to grips with the facts before them — their spouses were having a secret affair, and had been for quite a while now. Phone messages exchanged between the two lovers and videos taken during one of their many encounters only confirms this suspicion. But what begins as mutual embarrassment and sadness turns into something more, as In-su and Seo-young find themselves drawn to one another, and eventually enters into a secret affair of their own.
“April Snow” is purposeful filmmaking, the kind that has come to define director Hur’s still relatively short career. There are no hints of romance between the two cuckolded spouses until almost the 40-minute mark, when she finds him tossing snowballs in the parking lot alone at night. But romance doesn’t come easily, as Seo-young seems determined to ignore the evidences of the affair, deciding instead to play the dutiful wife next to her comatose husband’s bed. It’s not until In-su makes a brave move to silently sit down next to her that Seo-young realizes it’s no longer possible to play naÃ¯ve, if only because someone else knows the truth.
Conceived and executed as a relatively simple story with a linear progression, “April Snow” has few surprises for the seasoned viewer, and it’s the little moments that make the film worthwhile, including the first time Seo-young and In-su hold hands. It’s a quick moment, and you might miss it if you weren’t paying attention, but it comes almost an hour into the film as the two make their first secret getaway. The irony of their affair quickly becomes obvious to the audience — they are replicating the same methods, the same lies, and the same ways to immortalize their affair that their (originally) cheating spouses had done.
Of the two leads, it’s actually Ye-jin Son who carries much of the film with her soulful looks and pitch-perfect performance. The much ballyhooed Bae Yong-jun handles his half well enough, even though one can’t help but notice that he’s chosen to play the part as impossibly understated, and as a result is oftentimes overwhelmed by the presence of his co-star in their scenes together. After 110 minutes, you can sort of understand why In-su’s wife strayed; to be honest, In-su is a stiff. Even Seo-young’s romance with him seems more out of mutual need and empathy than anything overtly desirous. Not that it’s okay to cheat on one’s spouse, but you know, sometimes you can’t help it when you end up married to a dead fish. Not that Seo-young is a ball of laughs herself, mind you…
If the premise of “April Snow” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same one used in the 1999 Harrison Ford movie “Random Hearts”, in which Ford played a cop whose wife was cheating on him with the husband of a woman played by Kristin Scott Thomas. It’s revealed in “Random Hearts” that the cheating spouses weren’t just out for a good time, but were in fact quite in love, and that it was simply bad luck they were already married. There is no sense that Seo-young’s husband and In-su’s wife were actually in love in “April Snow”, which hinders our acceptance of the two cheating spouses as viable characters, and not simply plot devices.
Although a good film, and another proud feather in the cap of Jin-ho Hur, “April Snow” is not quite as good as the director’s “Christmas in August” or “One Fine Spring Day”, two masterpieces of human drama that remains with the viewer long after viewing. If anything, “April Snow” is too simple for its own good, with no overly complex themes involved beyond the tortured feelings of its two protagonists as they end up repeating, unknowingly, the very same tragedy that brought them together in the first place. There really is no reason why “April Snow” should feel so limited in its human emotions, but nevertheless, it is.
There is actually a very curious moment in “April Snow” that stuck with me for a while after viewing. In it, a lawyer advises Seo-young and In-su to attend the funeral of the young man killed in the accident. They do, with predictably disastrous results. The idea was to offer condolence in exchange for an out-of-court settlement, but how anyone could think this is a good idea is beyond the realm of common sense. This is such a bad, bad idea on so many levels, that if it actually takes place in Korea , it has got to be one of the stupidest idea ever thought up by human beings. If nothing else, this one moment in “April Snow” needs to be seen to be believed.
Jin-ho Hur (director) / Jin-ho Hur, Won-sik Lee, You-min Seo, Joon-ho Shin (screenplay)
CAST: Ye-jin Son …. Seo-young
Yong-jun Bae …. In-su
Sang-hyo Lim …. Su-jin
Seung-su Ryu …. Gyeong-ho