Eye For Film >> Movies >> Christmas In August (1998) Film Review
A photographer called Jung-won (Han Suk-kyu) finds out that he is terminally ill. Rather than tell his friends, he chooses to keep it to himself and his close family. Around this time, a meter maid called Da-rim (Shim Eun-ha) begins to visit his shop on a regular basis. Attracted to him, she makes subtle advances, but he is somewhat ambiguous, protecting her perhaps from the emotional trauma of his dying. However, a deep emotional bond is formed that draws them close in these, his final weeks.
Much of this engaging, often difficult film alternates between the two gentle and likeable protagonists. Gradually it becomes a character study of both and the implications of withheld knowledge. Not only is Jung-won dying, he is a lonely character. His illness weighs heavily upon him but he upholds his dignity throughout. Co-writer/director Hur Jin-Ho portrays his emptiness and sadness, but does not sentimentalise any regrets he may have, or the person he was before.
We feel for Da-rim and wonder if she knows of Jung-won's illness and there are arguments as to whether she would be less, or more, upset by his not telling her. We assume that from his point of view, the pain of knowing would spoil what little happiness they have left. His disappearances (into hospital) certainly frustrate her, as underlined in the scene where she finds his studio closed, so throws a brick through the window - one of the most expressive scenes in the film.
Christmas In August is warm, or coldly detached, depending on how you respond. I found it cold, because of its inexpressive grief at the premature end of a promising life. A dying person should not necessarily assume going quietly would cause less sadness for those they leave behind. Here it seems to have the opposite effect. It is all the more sad that he dies with so many emotional issues unresolved. Slow death on screen has never been so clinical.
Jung-won's final self-portrait serves as a simulacrum of himself and exemplifies the alienation (through multimedia and anonymous communication) between individuals in capitalist societies in the latter half of the 20th century to now. This appears to be particularly true in places such as Japan and South Korea, just as in metropolitan western cities where overpopulation is isolating individuals rather than making them more socially interactive. Global Village = intangible communities.
This is a minimalist, brave, unsentimental and unconventional love story.
I have a feeling that repeated viewings will allow it to grow in your heart and mind and could become a classic in years to come. The acting and direction is of a very high standard. Also, it is an authentic piece of South Korean cinema and totally uncompromising.Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2005