Monday, September 19, 2005

April Snow

Let us get this out of the way early. For the wrong reasons, April Snow is a film that will forever sit in the shadow of Wong Kar Wai’s stylish romantic tragedy In The Mood For Love.

During a highly unusual snowstorm in late spring, a car accident leaves a local man dead, and a man and woman from Seoul beat up badly and in comas. In Su works as a lighting co-ordinator for pop concerts, and has to leave right in the middle of setting up a large concert due to a phone call from his wife being injured small coastal town. When he gets there, he meets Seo Young, a woman attending to her comatose husband. For both of them, the abrupt situation is both tragic, and also very awkward. Their spouses were in the car togther, driving drunk to a location neither knows. This is never clearer than when they have to sift though a bag of possessions recovered from the car. Which one of their spouses owned the condom? On the cellular phones and digital camera, In Su and Seo Young find intimate phone messages and an explicit video of their worst fears, their spouses lounging in bed in a state of casual and intimate humour.

Both In Su and Seo Young are put through the emotional wringer over the weeks of waiting for their partners either to wake up, or pass away At times both wish for either of these two ends for their silent partners. In a particularly awkward scene, at the request of one of their insurance adjusters, they attend the funeral of the local man who was killed in the accident. The mother, deeply mired in grief, as the accident was the result of drunk driving, at first thinks the couple are friends of her son. When they awkwardly explain their relationship to the deceased, the mother sends them away and the family members threaten violence. That particular form of guilt (how are In Su and Seo Young at fault here?) is convincingly examined though a distanced and unusual relationship, which starts with unanswerable, questions and ends with love.

There is a multitude of compelling reasons why In Su and Seo Young get together. They are both away from home in the static limbo of hospital corridors and long wait between doctor visits. They are both grieving for their partners who secretly betrayed them in one of the worst possible ways, in other words: these are very scarred souls. And there is an undeniable attraction between them that cannot be ignored. But the trump card here is that the emotional baggage of their situation hovers over every word, gesture and thought.

April Snow works as a film at every possible level. It defies the obvious trap of melodrama inherent in the situation. The acting and chemistry of the two leads is impeccable, as is the distanced and silent tone of the film. Director Hur Jin Ho and actors Bae Yong Jonn and Son Ye Jin scripted the film as they were shooting it. This often ends in a messy muddled film (see Dancing at the Blue Iguana for a good example of this concept done really bad), but here, the film is flawless in its storytelling. Admittedly, a mainstream audience may have trouble with the very, very slow pace, but it is perfectly in line with the story, situation and isolated and uneasy tone of the film. I cannot think of a single wrong note in the film.

So, what about the comparisons to In the Mood For Love? Well, it is reminiscent of that film, obviously from the concept, but also because it goes about itself different in every way. April Snow is contemporary and crisp where wkw’s film is nostalgic and ethereal. April Snow does offer answers and a conclusion, where In the Mood For Love is vague and not forthcoming. Does this make sense? It will when you see the film. And if you are a romantic at heart, you should. A snowstorm in the summer is a bitter sweet moment captured in yet another solid film out of South Korea.


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