"At first, as time passed, I thought of them a hundred times a day, then ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven... and then when I forgot to count, I wasn't sure if they had black or brown hair, or if I had really liked them... or if we really did meet."
Ji-hwan has begun to receive mail regularly from an unknown person, each handmade envelope containing only a black and white photograph with a message of love written on it. Reminded of his life five years earlier, he begins to reminisce, with thoughts of two girls to whom he became very close at the time - Soo-in and Kyung-hee - increasingly filling his head. Unable to put aside his memories of the girls, Ji-hwan sets out to find them, determined to finally discover the real reasons why they are no longer part of his life, but little does he realise the heartbreak that awaits him...
Ji-hwan (Cha Tae-hyun) first meets the quiet and reserved Soo-in (Son Ye-jin) and her bubbly, effervescent friend, Kyung-hee (Lee Eun-joo), while working part-time in a cafe to help pay his college tuition. A would-be photographer in his spare time, he first glimpses Soo-in in his camera's viewfinder and instantly falls head over heels in love. When the girls leave, he can't help but follow them to a restaurant and, bravely or foolishly, declares his undying love for Soo-in, only to be politely, and immediately, shot down in flames. Overcome with embarrassment, he leaves, only to return to stand outside the window where the girls are sitting and, holding a clock set to an hour in the past, asks them to forget the things he has said in the hope that they can become friends, should they happen to meet again. A few days later in the cafe, while Ji-hwan watches a televised football game between Korea and Japan, the girls unexpectedly turn up and ask if they can join him, and slowly their relationship begins.
Happy and fun-filled though the subsequent growing friendship between Ji-hwan and the two girls is, there are repeated indications that things are not as idyllic as they initially appear. Soo-in clearly has ongoing health problems ("Why do I keep losing weight, while doing nothing?") and, combined with a love triangle, of sorts, building between the three, it quickly becomes painfully clear that at least one of them must ultimately lose, most probably in more ways than one.
From the early stages of the story, viewers will pretty much know whether or not Lovers' Concerto is their type of film: As the vast majority of the plot revolves around Ji-hwan's memories of the growing "love affair" with Soo-in and Kyung-hee (while he, in the present, lives alone with his sister), it almost goes without saying that the relationship is unlikely to have a happy ending and, being a Korean film, that opens the door for a series of scenes and set pieces specifically designed to send viewers' tear ducts into overdrive. It must also be said that many of the pivotal moments within the film use obvious plot devices to achieve exactly that, however, Lovers' Concerto makes no apology whatsoever for being melodrama through and through and, thanks to the great pains taken to build viewer empathy in the first half of the film, along with exemplary performances from a top-notch cast, viewers will find it difficult not to, willingly, allow themselves to be led wherever director Lee Han chooses to take them, by whatever means he deems necessary.
As we become increasingly invested in the lives of the main characters, Lovers' Concerto plays as a sweet and gently engaging romance but, make no mistake, once the many heartbreaks begin to surface in earnest, they do so with little let up, and though there are contrivances galore within the various story elements, their ultimate unpredictability ensures that this is a tale worth investing in from start to deeply emotional finish.
And thus, into overdrive those tear ducts go.
Director Lee Han is in no rush to tell the story of Lovers' Concerto and, though his approach may frustrate fans of faster moving fare, it nonetheless serves to allow viewers to experience a very natural building of character empathy, at much the same pace as the growth of the friendship between Ji-hwan, Soo-in and Kyung-hee. Even the revelations in the latter half of the film are played in a gentle, almost unassuming, manner and though we are aware throughout that they are coming, if anything, their impact is heightened as a result of their understatedness.
Cinematically, Lovers' Concerto is utterly beautiful, with sweeping wide-angle shots of Ji-hwan, Soo-in and Kyung-hee together in stunning vistas, perfectly juxtaposed with much closer, more intimate views of the various sub-sections within the overall friendship and the subsequent breaking hearts.
The musical score is largely of a type heard in numerous Korean romances and melodramas, but nonetheless serves its purpose perfectly adequately, fitting (and, in fact, accentuating) the underlying feeling of each section of the ongoing drama.
Considering the fact that all three of the main cast are/were extremely talented, it will come as no surprise that their characterisations in Lovers' Concerto are all utterly accomplished, impassioned and nuanced, leaving no place for criticism in any respect.
As such, it would be difficult to single out one portrayal as being significantly better than another, though it must be said that the performances of Son Ye-jin and Lee Eun-joo are truly neck and neck for that position throughout.
As many will be aware, Lee Eun-joo, sadly, committed suicide on February 22nd, 2005 (aged just 24 years old), only a few weeks after the premiere of what would be her final film - The Scarlet Letter - and, from a personal point of view, I found watching her incredible performance in Lovers' Concerto a much more difficult task after that date than it had ever been before.
To this day, Lovers' Concerto remains, and will continue to stand, as a poignant tribute to an astoundingly talented, incredibly beautiful, if sadly troubled, lady.
Despite the use of numerous contrived plot devices throughout, Lovers' Concerto is, nonetheless, an extremely engaging, deeply moving tale of heartbreak, love and loss.
Cha Tae-hyun, Son Ye-jin, Lee Eun-joo, Moon Geun-young
Director: Lee Han
The DVD used for this review is the Korean 2-Disc Limited Edition (Region 3) which features a DVD containing the film and extras and an OST soundtrack CD containing music from the film. The film itself has an anamorphic transfer presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture is clear with good colour balance throughout and is free of ghosting and image artifacts.
The sound is a choice of DTS Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and the sound balance compliments the visuals beautifully.
Excellent subtitles are provided for the main feature but English speaking viewers should be aware that there are no English subtitles available for any of the extras (see below).
Lovers' Concerto: 2-Disc Limited Edition
Subtitles: English, Korean
Country of Origin: South Korea
Picture Format: NTSC
Disc Format(s): 2-Disc Limited Edition (One dual-layered DVD and an OST soundtrack CD)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Sound: DTS Digital Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 5.1
Region Code: Region 3
Publisher: Enter One
* Audio Commentary
* Featurette - Making Film
* Deleted Scenes
* Stills Gallery
* Theatrical Trailer
Disc 2 (CD):
OST Best Collection - a CD featuring soundtrack music from the film