It’s hard being left behind .. it’s hard being the one who stays!

I’ve learned that waiting is the most difficult bit, and I want to get used to the feeling, knowing that you’re with me, even when you’re not by my side

Paulo Coelho, Eleven minutes

 Awaiting (2014)
Also known as
Min-ussi o-neun nal  &  The Day Min-woo Arrives
Drama, Historical, Romance
Written by
Directed by
Country of Origin
South Korea 
Running time
28 minutes 

oh! … background

This short film was part of the Beautiful 2014 project showcased at the Hong Kong Film Festival in March 2014. Awaiting is one of four short films. The other short films were The Dream directed by Shu KeiHK 2014 – Education for All directed by Christopher Doyle, and Boss I Love You directed by Zhang Yuan.

oh! … brief

Yeon-hee is on a bus travelling to Pyongyang. The bus is filled with elderly people. She is flipping through old photographs and begins to remember her husband, Min-woo. As the memory unfolds it is obvious that her husband travelled to North Korea and that the political situation and consequent war between North Korea and South Korea have prevented him from returning home. He travelled against his wife’s wishes. The separation has torn the marriage apart and this short film follows some of that story, a story which is repeated in countless relationships on both sides of the border.

oh! … talks film

To be honest, until I watched this short film, I had no idea that situations like the one depicted in this film had occurred, or that so many lives had been torn apart by the horrors of the Korean War. My heart ached to watch this story unfold and I shed more than a few tears.

Writer and director Kang Je-gyu opened this film with the start of Yeon-hee ‘s journey by bus to meet with her estranged husband, accompanied by a simple, gentle piano piece. It was a nostalgic beginning to a sad tale. The heroine first appears as a young woman, perhaps in her twenties or early thirties. Kang Je-gyu’s screenplay is simple, with easy to follow the dialogue and a fair number of visual clues that the audience begins to understand that Yeon-hee is, in fact, a much older woman and has in fact been separated from her husband for close to or more than 60 years. Some of those clues include new-fangled technology – a cell phone that plays music and Yeon-hee’s outdated attire for example. The craft behind Kang Je-gyu’s telling of this story is exquisite, the audience watches as if seeing the world through Yeon-hee’s eyes.

It is heartbreaking to understand that for Yeon-hee, her world stopped the day Min-woo decided to go to North Korea and never come back. As I watched the story unfold, I understood that Yeon-hee got stuck, in her mind, as the young woman she once was, at a time when she was happy and awaiting the return of her husband. Kang Je-gyu uses a narrative dialogue or spoken diary to unravel the many layers of the story – particularly as they relate to the unknown Sa-ra who is living in the US and very angry or resentful. It was a brilliant idea to write the screenplay and capture it visually this way too. In a way, it reminded me of aspects of the Notebook, the reading of the story to bring back the memory of an Alzheimer patient. In many ways, I guess Yeon-hee is suffering the same sort of illness if not outright Alzheimer’s.

In this type of film, there is no character development, there’s just no room for it – Yeon-hee life is all but grinding to a halt, likely she has lived in this state for as long as her husband has been missing. Surprisingly there is little political statement or opinion made either, Kang Je-gyu left any finger-pointing out of the screenplay, circumnavigating it all by focusing on the harrowing pain inflicted by forced separation. There are a fair number of poignant and climatic scenes, beautifully captured in the lens of the cameras, particularly those toward the end of the film – in particular, two scenes with Yeon-hee bidding Min-woo goodbye. The first captured in the present day, buildings and modern architecture are seen in the background behind Min-woo as he quietly walks away. The second sorrowful goodbye has a different background, the road, a countryside lane with mountains as the backdrop. The difference in the scenes depicting the space in time. For Yeon-hee nothing has changed. She only feels the sad loss of the man she loves.

The cinematography for this film was outstanding. The cameras captured every detail, no matter how small and those visual cues I alluded to earlier made watching this production that much more enjoyable. The screenplay is unlike any other I have come across, so much attention to detail in the development of the story and the insight to how to frame and shoot each scene. The use of wardrobe as a visual cue was also exceptional and I think as director Kang Je-gyu excelled for this body of work. Every aspect, even the musical accompaniment was strategically thought out and used to enhance the production.

This is not your typical South Korean film industry production, in fact, in many regards, it is far better than mainstream films coming out of the industry because of its entirely genuine originality.

The character Yeon-hee was played in the past and the present. Moon Chae-won played young Yeon-hee and did such an excellent job of a woman plagued by her husband’s separation and waiting for his imminent return. Moon Chae-won aptly depicts Yeon-hee’s life of waiting – daily cleaning and readying her home, visiting the market to buy food for a sumptuous meal for his return, depicting the memory of a time gone by but confused by the present. It was an amazing performance. Present day Yeon-hee was played by Son Sook and the short scenes capturing the older Yeon-hee are heartbreaking for their reality – she is an older woman, struggling to maintain her memories and living in the past where she was happy. Her relationship with her daughter Sa-ra is strained to say the least.

Go Soo played Min-woo the husband who was separated by circumstance and war. A minor role for this production, but an important one. Go Soo is a brilliant actor and does well in this small role, even though most of his performance is captured in flashbacks or memories of Yeon-hee. Go Soo didn’t get much opportunity to flex his acting muscles, but this toned down and the subdued role was a good fit for him.

oh! … sidekicks

Sa-ra who really is only a voice on the telephone or answering machine messages was played by Yoo Ho-jeong. She delivered a solid performance of a daughter scorned and indifferent to her mother’s pain, having been cast aside in her mother’s relentless pursuit to be reunited with the man she cherished as a husband, Min-woo. The messages and conversation pull at the heartstrings as you can hear both her resentment and concern for her mother in the tone of her voice and the words she uttered.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I was blown away by this very honest portrayal of the pain felt and mirrored likely by thousands of other couples or family members who were forced to live their entire lives separated from their loved ones. The story and situation itself is affecting and will touch the core of its audience. I cannot imagine what a lifetime of yearning would be, knowing that the person you love and hold dear is alive and well and living in a prison, not of their making. Unfathomable! But I do understand the pain of ageing and missing someone you’ve loved dearly having lost my own father at a very young and impressionable age. There is no remedy, no cure, and no way to escape the loss.

I highly recommend watching this film! Because its length is so short, it’s easy enough to watch it again several times over, and that isn’t a bad idea. The discussions I had with myself following the first time I watched it, led me to read more about this situation. I wanted to learn more about how this all came about. It’s very sad!

This film will be joining my collection and I’m certain to watch it again.

oh! … soundtrack

Please have patience while I look for the soundtrack online!

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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