Blimey, it has taken this one a long time to become available! A (2nd) remake of a Korean 1962 Classic (Which I have not seen), it stars two actors that I have a huge amount of time for, and I have been looking to see it for at least 12 months. It does not seem to have seriously made its way to the West in a full blown release, but was a huge hit in China, though it bombed in Korea. On which side of the fence will I fall? And just what was the self-limitation I put on myself which may well have detracted (or enhanced) my appreciation?
“Late Autumn” introduces us to Chinese immigrant Anna (Tang Wei) as she is released from prison for a few days to attend her Mother’s funeral in Seattle. She has a mobile phone which she is contacted on regularly, and has to give her location. On her Coach Journey back home she encounters Hoon (Hyun Bin), a Korean immigrant who is also a Gigolo. Seeing an Asian face on the bus, he gets her to reluctantly to loan him $30 for the ride. Anna has no interest in talking to him, but this seems to intrigue Hoon, who spends the next few days attempting to get to know her. As they travel around Seattle together, a romance blooms, but Hoon is potentially hiding a big secret that is going to mean that this affair will be the most temporary of arrangements.
This is really a film about two lost souls, briefly finding each other. Much has been made about the location in other reviews, about how they did not see the point of moving the location to the USA, other than a cynical ploy to maximise the marketing. For me however, it made perfect sense – it not only took these people out of their normal surroundings (really making them strangers in a strange land), but there is a certain uniqueness about Seattle as a location. This is a place which is constantly raining, where everything is shrouded in fog, not at all unlike the battles that are going on internally for our characters.
So desperate was I to see the film, I settled on a Korean version of the film, which only had Korean subtitles. Now, no matter what you read about the film, only about 50% of it is in English. Hoon speaks to people on his mobile phone, and to the woman who is currently paying him for his time in Korean for about 10% of the film, and Anna talks mainly in Chinese for the other 40%. This means for half the film I had no idea what was going on. This has some benefits, but caused me one huge issue. In a key scene, Anna explains what happened to send her to Prison (although we are given visual clues early on). She does this exclusively in Chinese, and the point is that Hoon cannot understand what she is saying either, but is there to listen to her, punctuating her monologue with “good” and “bad” the only two words of Chinese he knows. So on the plus side, I experienced the scene with Hoon, empathising with her raw emotions. On the down side, the actual events that caused the death of her husband are left shrouded in mystery for me. Even reading other reviews have left me unclear – most seem to suggest she killed him accidently when he found out about her affair with another man. However, one other reading of it suggests she has taken the fall for her lover, who we meet during the film. I am going with the former reading, but it would shed a totally different light on proceedings.
Despite the language problem, both Tang Wei and Hyun Bin are great. Tang Wei is withdrawn, with pain etched behind her eyes, only very slowly opening herself out. The scene where she meets her young Nephews and Nieces is especially good, the excitement of a family reunion lost on her as she does not know these people. Her English is fine, and really not worth the criticism I have seen by others. Hyun Bin is also fantastic as the charming scoundrel – albeit with an obvious dark side. He has mostly made his name in popular K-Dramas, but with this and “Come Rain Come Shine”, I can certainly see he is an actor of some depth, and far more than his pretty boy looks betray.
The film itself looks great, in a kind of washed out way that the location only helps to bring out, again echoing the loneliness of our protagonists. Sadly, all is not perfect, as on at least one occasion, the film allows itself to get dragged into pretentiousness. A clever if unoriginal scene where Anna and Hoon are making up the words of a pair of distant characters (and thereby giving an insight into their own states of mind) is utterly ruined when it suddenly becomes some kind of performance art. It is out of keeping with the naturalistic nature of the film, and offers nothing.
I do have to take issue with a key plot element – Anna is basically released into society on her own cognisance – with only a daily telephone call to check in. As a convicted murderer, I cannot believe she was not tagged electronically. Moreover, it seems that in the original movie, the Anna character was accompanied by Guards, which meant the stolen time together actually meant a lot more. It seemed a strange way to deliver the scenario, and could have been easily written into the script.
Hoon’s story is lacking a little too – he is obviously running away from something, but when things reach a crisis, it is never made entirely clear whether he actually did perform some heinous crime, or if he has been set up. Whilst this then leads directly to the sad closing scene where it becomes obvious that their affair was that briefest of lights in their dark lives, I thought the audience deserved just a little more.
So, in conclusions, despite my long wait, and admiration for the acting, I ended up really disappointed with the film. It never really worked as a love story, and did not dig deeply enough into the background drama. Two or three scenes were delightful, and the ending is an image that will last in my memory a long time. But, it only makes the Mildly Recommended list, and that for the performances alone. And the irony is, I probably enjoyed it more not understanding some of the dialogue.