Welcome back to the 14,210,009 most popular website in the world. I have a little bit of a backlog of films built up, so be prepared for some extra postings in the next day or so.
First, a moan. Sometimes Asian movies get really odd names when converted to Western friendly titles. This one has NOTHING to do with music, not does it act like a concerto in any way. I see in some locations it is known as “Friends and Lover”, which is maybe a little better. Gripe over.
“Lovers Concerto” is going to be the first of a few films that pop up that are in the “Terminal Beauty” genre. Korean cinema seems to have a plethora of these, but they are by no means unique to Asian Cinema. You know the sort of film – couple fall in love, one turns out to be dying, he or se dies, lots of tears and sweeping violins play.
I don’t have anything against these kind of movies (apart from when I was half my age I probably would not watch them). But sometimes a film will do something clever which just adds that polish of class. This one does that, in a couple of ways.
This is the story of Ji-hwan (pleasantly played by Cha Tae-hyun) who is lucky enough to meet two girls one day. He falls for the beautiful Su-in (Son Ye-jin), but his courtship stalls, and he ends up becoming great friends with her and her best friend (and far from unattractive)Kyeong-hee (Lee Eun-ju).
Over time, Ji-hwan realises he is falling for the more unconventional Kyeong-hee, but partly due to his mixed feelings, and partly out of his respect to his friendship to both of them.
Now it becomes quite clear that Sun-in is not very well (and has not been very well all her life), and eventually Ji-hwan falls out of contact with the girls after an unpleasant conversation.
The film takes place in both the present day, and 5 years ago (when the original relationship takes place), and slowly things become clear to us about some realities of the past.
Now this blog deals in spoilers, so if the above has interested you, I suggest you look away now.
You see, it turns out both the girls are terminally ill (they met as youngsters in hospital, which explains both their closeness and a lot of the behaviour between the two). They also took each others names (which is hard to explain here, but makes for a very clever reveal just near the end).
Now this film is far from perfect, but in my mind rises above the crowd for four reasons:
1) I am a big fan of magic tricks. Most magic tricks are based on distraction – making you look at point A, when the action is happening at point B. Really good magicians will give you all the information you need to see how the trick is performed – but you will still be distracted. Sometimes films achieve this – the audience has been given everything they need to know, they just have not been able to piece it together because they have been looking elsewhere. Now we will get to a film which does this soon magnificently (as the crux of a movie), but here things are done quite subtlety but Lee Han directs them wit assurance. You see – we KNOW that both girls are ill. We are just not told it explicitly. We KNOW that they have changed names in non-formal situations. We are just not told it explicitly. And when the two tricks are performed it works brilliantly.
2) There is a piece of dialogue in the movie that struck a chord with me. I have to paraphrase, but it is along the lines of “I remembered them for 100 days, but each day I forgot something about them.” How true this is, how fickle memory can be.
3) Side plots – there are a couple of parallel stories going alongside the main narrative. Ji-hwan has a sister (a very young Moon Geun-Young), who meets a boy in a bookstore, and a somewhat unfulfilled romance starts. It is pretty slight, but adds some depth to the movie. It also shows us we can love those that have gone away, but that can return. Ji-hwan has a friend who pops up occasionally, and a the timeline progresses we see him meet, fall in love and marry a girl. Not time at all is spent on this, but it stops the movie from being terribly insular.
4) The final 20 minutes are fabulous. Ji-hwan decides to track down the girls after 5 years (someone is sending him pictures that are obviously from one of them), and finds out that one has died (not the one we think though). The reveal of who it is is done wonderfully, but the key scene is when he finally meets Kyeong-hee in a feild. Lee Eun-ju is just marvellous here as you can tell that she is conflicted whether to stay or run. We also find out what happened the night that the friends split up, and suddenly everything just clicks. Masterful.
As I said, not the greatest film in the world, probably not even the best example of the genre, but so wonderfully acted and filmed, and the clever tricks in the story make this well worth hunting down and watching.