Director Hur Jin-ho finds light to counteract the sadness in this 1998 drama.
“I knew that someday love would become nothing but a memory, like the countless photographs left behind in my recollections.”
With Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been once again scouring the internet for the best thematic films from South-East Asia. A couple of years ago I looked at one of the best Japanese Christmas films, and one of the … let’s say most forgettable, but haven’t had much of a chance to see what other countries had to offer. And so we have Hur Jin-ho’s 1998 romantic drama, Christmas in August.
The movie follows Jung-won (Han Suk-kyu): a portrait photographer who spends most of his time working in his own small studio in Seoul. One day, a parking officer called Da-rim (Shim Eun-ha) comes into his shop, and the two start a friendship, and eventually a romance. However, we find out that Jung-won is suffering from some sort of illness – it’s never mentioned what it is – and he spends the movie coming to grips with both his inevitable death, and his now-budding relationship.
Wait, what? Oh man, I probably should have a read a synopsis or something before throwing this on. Well, regardless of the fact that it’s not in the slightest bit Christmassy, I did greatly enjoy Christmas in August. A lot of credit here has to go to Han Suk-kyu who is in basically every scene of the movie. He plays Jung-won with a level of sincerity and empathy that will really connect with an audience and, considering his condition and journey throughout the movie, is vital. If we didn’t care for Jung-won, the movie may as well be over.
But we do care. When he makes the decision to not let the illness affect his life, we support him. He chooses not to tell Da-rim about his illness, because he doesn’t want to be treated differently or have his relationship tainted by the fact, and it’s a decision we can get behind. One of this film’s strongest assets is in its totally human portrayal of its main characters, and the way the cast play those roles. Han and Shim are so darn likeable, and have such cute chemistry, that they take what could have been a dull movie and filled it with of emotional investment and thus made it worth the ninety-odd minutes.
This movie was director Hur Jin-ho’s debut, but there’s a confidence to the visual and editing decisions made here, which were risky, but ultimately paid off. Keeping the film relatively slow allows for the feeling that we’re watching it in photograph form. With Jung-won’s health failing, this movie can almost be seen as his own memories, left to us after his death, not unlike the ones he has hanging in his shop, or in the myriad albums he keeps. Ultimately, Christmas in August has nothing to do with its namesake and probably isn’t going to be the heartwarming Christmas tale you might be looking forward to. Nevertheless, it is sweet and definitely has its heart in the right place, and, well, isn’t that what the season is all about?
Verdict: A simple story expertly told, Christmas in August’s sweetness will leave you just a little bit heartbroken
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Christmas in any form: 0/10
That scene from the poster: Did I miss it?
Christmas in August (1998)
Also known as: 8월의 크리스마스
Director: Hur Jin-ho
Writers: Oh Seung-uk, Shin Dong-hwan, Hur Jin-ho
Han Suk-kyu – Jung-won
Shim Eun-ha – Da-rim
Shin Goo – Jung-won’s father
Oh Ji-hye – Jung-sook
Lee Han-wi – Chul-goo