Men trust God by risking rejection, women trust God by waiting!

There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison

Jane Austen, Persuasion

Title
Always (2011)
Also known as
 Ohjik Geudaeman & Only You
Genre
Romance
Written by
Directed by
Starring
Country of Origin
South Korea 
Running time
 106 minutes 

oh! … brief

A former boxer, Cheol Min (Marcelino), is barely scraping by with a few part-time jobs so he starts a new one as a parking attendant. One day he meets Jeong Hwa, a young woman when she unexpectedly sits herself down next to him to watch a television drama. Jeong Hwa was friendly with the old parking attendant who Cheol Min replaced and she would spend her evenings watching dramas with the elderly man. Cheol Min allows Jeong Hwa to stay and watch the television with him, only later finding out she is blind. A friendship develops between the two when Jeong Hwa returns frequently to watch dramas and their friendship inevitably turns into a budding romance. As the two fall deeper in love with each other, an incident from their past is revealed and their lives are forever changed.

oh! … talks film

I am slowly becoming a sucker for romantic dramas, especially the ones that are devastatingly melodramatic, or so it would appear. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my love for other genres, it just means I am going through a phase. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

Song Il-gon, who doubles as both writer of this screenplay and director of the production, crafted a seemingly straightforward romance with all the usual South Korean drama clichés and tearjerker moments.

The writing of a romance between a blind girl and an introverted man who fall in love with each other is nothing new, nor is the developing story which intertwines the fate of both characters. Song Il-gon uses the much maligned and overused strategy in the writing of this screenplay – a sweet or endearing introduction (hooks the audience), the central part where the fate of the characters plays out with a big twist (audience either invests themselves with the story or sees through the implausibility of the situation) and then ends the story with either a high note or a devastating blow (renders the audience speechless). Its typical for many romance stories coming out of the Asian film industry, but somehow Song Il-gon pulls this one off!

Song Il-gon is well known in the industry as an indie film-maker with Magicians, Flower Island and the exceptionally brilliant psychological thriller Spider Forest. Romance is something new for him and I was expecting something a little more rough around the edges. It felt, to me, that Song Il-gon played it a little too safe. I watched this film with the understanding that it was a romance but involved a boxer, so I expected the boxing aspect to playing a much larger role. Not that I’m complaining that it didn’t, there were a few scenes and one fight scene that brought some blood and action to an otherwise sedate love story. But, the love story works well because of the chemistry between Cheol Min and Jeong Hwa and the dark secret of our leading man’s former life. The film is very moving and my heart was certainly stirred. Song Il-gon’s screenplay was well written, well developed and had enough ‘story’ to keep my attention and emotions invested. His approach to ‘trying out’ the romance genre was to work with the tried, tested and loved aspects instead of trying to change them to align more with his own creative style. This approach attracted romance genre fans and he didn’t alienate them or his other die-hard fans because he paid attention to highlight the true struggles of couples in a relationship with real-life obstacles to overcome while balancing the difficult task of developing an attraction into something longer lasting – planning for the future and common goals. This made the film genuine and relatable.

Song Il-gon’s leading characters were interesting. The blind woman who doesn’t want pity or to be helped with day-to-day life and certainly doesn’t expect Cheol Min to be her protector, even when she needed it to some degree or the other. Cheol Minis interesting as the almost reluctant protagonist. He certainly has more depth to his character than is usual for South Korean male leads, particularly the vulnerability and personal strife he struggles with. I genuinely was invested in the characters and found myself being moved and touched by their relationship but also as individuals. And overall the story is grim and you’ll need a box of Kleenex before the beginning of the end.

Song Il-gon is not only an accomplished screenplay writer but also an impressive director and this film is no exception. The film moves at a steady pace and the cage fight in Thailand in the third act was both bloody and sufficiently violent to appeal to my darker nature. There are some gorgeous visuals to feast on along the way, some tender moments that will clutch at your heart, and some scenes that will move you to tears, or, as in my case, had me almost bawling. The cinematography was impressive, Song Il-gon directed Hong Kyung-pyo to bathe many of the scenes in a golden glow and haziness that definitively intended a sincere essence an air of nostalgia to balance out the potent romance.  And while these elements are not surprising for Song Il-gon, I still had the distinct impression that in a roundabout way he was poking fun at the genre while playing it almost by the book, a sort of devilish self-awareness hidden behind a shrewd grin.

The cast for this production did an excellent job of delivering their individual characters.

So Ji Sub was cast as Cheol Min and managed to deliver authentically painful self-blame from start to bitter end. I was entirely convinced by Cheol Min’s turning his life around. So Ji Sub delivered genuine regret, remorse and struggle with his own demons and strife. Cheol Min’s tears were as genuine as if the character lived and was not being acted out. And So Ji Sub depicted a man in love with such organic emotion it was beautiful to watch. That he’s a fine specimen for men was not lost either – the tough, bad-boy routine coupled with the martial arts sequences and strong-arming of a bad element set on physically harming Jeong Hwa was exhilarating, not to mention the cage fight where he sent his opponent flying and ultimately won. But, later So Ji Sub delivers a vulnerability that breaks the heart, enough to make even the toughest woman buckle. I was impressed with his performance, even though I know him from various roles in kdrama.

Jeong Hwa was played by Han Hyo Ju, a kdrama actress and she delivered a winning performance as a pure, dovelike ingénue. Han Hyo Ju’s interpretation of Jeong Hwa was funny, charming, lovely. But, Han Hyo Ju also gave a solid performance when Cheol Min beats her assailant – her terror and abject fear felt authentic and broke my heart. Jeong Hwa’s dependence on Cheol Min becomes front and centre focus from that point on and Han Hyo Ju’s interpretation and subsequent acting perfectly mimicked a real-life situation. I want to watch more of this young lady!

Together, So Ji Sub and Han Hyo Ju shared amazing chemistry as Cheol Min and Jeong Hwa, It was endearing to watch the romance develop between the two and I wished there had been more time to re-establish the relationship before the ending of the film.

oh! … sidekicks

There were many fine performances delivered by the supporting cast members, but I must give a special mention to Jin Goo’s cameo as the pottery store owner. Jin Goo has a natural and subtle way of performing that lends a calm, quiet tone to his characters. His role in this film was exactly that. Not a third wheel, just a soothing, calm man with a strong presence. He’s beautiful to look at, but can act well too!

oh! … that’s a wrap

I was held captive by this film. The writing of the screenplay was strong while being a little ‘tongue in cheek’. Song Il-gon excelled in delivering a timeless and classic piece of film in the romance genre, something new for him and certainly, it won me over. The cinematography was exceptional, adding to the whole nostalgic air of the film, but also lending a beauty to the visual narrative.

If you are a fan of the romance genre, this film should not be missed. I’ll be adding this piece of work to my growing collection and I will revisit it from time to time when I need reminding that even in the midst of a struggle with life, fate can bring about a beautiful love story.

oh! … tidbits

Always was the film that opened the 2011 Busan International Film Festival.

Online tickets for a 2,000-seat outdoor theatre sold out in a record seven seconds.

The film was seen by 1,207,614 people nationwide in South Korea.

The movie was remade by Turkey in 2014 (Sadece Sen), by Kannada in 2015 (Boxer) and in India in 2016 (Do Lafzon Ki Kahani)

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

 

oh! … trailer

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