"I met you because I was forgetful, I'm leaving you because I'm forgetful. You should forget me now, to make us even."
A Moment To Remember tells the story of Su-jin (Son Ye-jin), a rather absent-minded career woman who has recently been jilted by her already-married boyfriend. After buying a Coke at a corner shop (but forgetting to take it with her when she leaves), she returns to find a man about to drink from a can which she mistakenly assumes is the one she left behind. Snatching the Coke from his hand she drinks it and walks away, only later realising the mistake that’s she made. When their paths cross again, she learns that the man’s name is Chul-soo (Jung Woo-sung), a carpenter whose only goal in life is to become an architect, and before long they (inevitably) begin to date.
However, Chul-soo is initially unwilling to make any long-term commitment and it is only as a result of a medical emergency involving Su-jin that he finally realises how in love with her he truly is. The two are finally married and settle into a seemingly blissful existence together but to Su-jin's dismay she begins to notice that her forgetfulness is becoming more pronounced to the point where it is starting to affect her daily life. Seeking medical advice, she is put through a series of tests and is finally forced to face the fact that she has a rare form of Alzheimers’ disease, affecting the young, which is quickly going to strip all her memories away...
Stories of love torn apart by terminal disease are numerous, to say the least, in South Korean cinema and while a select few (such as Failan) rightfully deserve to be called masterpieces, many are at best generic and derivative - lacking in emotional resonance with plots which do little more than simply tick all the boxes in a "tear-jerking plot devices" template. There are a great many things about A Moment To Remember that positively scream that it should be firmly placed in the latter category and forgotten but somehow in spite of its flaws and contrivances, the audience manipulation present and its utter brazenness in its choice of subject, I just can't seem to bring myself to consign it to that fate.
This review, more than any other to be found on Hangul Celluloid, is written in an attempt to explain the rationale behind how a film so contrived can also manage to be so affecting.
The relationship of Su-jin and Chul-soo is shown in three main "stages":
Their initial meeting, through the early stages of their love affair to their marriage ceremony;
Their married life together, before the diagnosis of Su-jin's disease and;
The post-diagnosis conclusion of their story.
Of these, the first stage is easily the weakest and though there are some beautifully understated pointers to Su-jin's illness (for example, when the contents of her handbag are spilt on the street revealing an abundance of pens, she passingly states "I lose pens all the time" as she quickly, obviously embarrassed, gathers them up) there are also some that are totally unnecessary and feel utterly fake (e.g. In Chul-soo's jeep, she tries to explain an earlier mistake by saying "I'm... um... ah... What's the word? Oh, yeah... Forgetful").
At this early juncture, the character of Su-jin is much more fleshed-out than that of Chul-soo - who is little more than a caricature - but as we're dealing almost exclusively with Su-jin's story at this stage that's less of an issue than it would otherwise have been.
All that said, this section of A Moment To Remember is still engaging but what really makes it worth watching is the superb performance of Son Ye-jin, as Su-jin, (more on this later in the review) and the feeling (from what appears to be the beginning of an underlying theme linking memories and the soul) that further discussions on the nature of memories are likely.
The second "stage" of the film is much stronger. Detailing Su-jin's and Chul-soo's happily married life (up until Su-jin's diagnosis), it is a well designed love story which builds gently - at exactly the right pace - and could in fact almost stand on its own. The character of Chul-soo is greatly expanded and there is an incredible chemistry between him and Su-jin with some sweetly warm and genuinely funny moments giving the audience a real insight into the characters' personalities.
These happy moments are also expertly designed to almost lull viewers into a false sense of security, and when juxtaposed with increasing indications that Su-jin’s condition is worsening (along with Son Ye-jin’s ability to simultaneously show her character’s utter confusion, frustration and fear), the combination is beautifully bittersweet.
Also within this section, it becomes aparent that all of the main characters pasts have left them with painful memories and for a short time it appears that this will form another underlying theme, but (sadly) it is not delved into to any real degree and is, in fact, hardly mentioned from this point on - an utter waste of what could have been a truly discussion-worthy theme; especially when contrasted with what Su-jin is going through.
And so to the third and final section of the film which is perhaps the strongest of the three - though it's a pretty close call between it and the second section. As far as Su-jin's diagnosis is concerned, I feel that the film would have benefitted much more from the use of an unnamed disease. As it is, the diagnosis itself is more "sad movie of the week" terrain than poignant drama territory but once she is diagnosed the film is able to once again concentrate on the characters, their futures and the sacrifices they feel are required to make for themselves and their loved ones. Mostly, these aspects work well (helped again by great performances from both Son Ye-jin and Jung Woo-sung) but there are two small scenes which frankly fall flat: The first is a scene involving Chul-soo going to see his mother who has ended up in prison (a turn of events which requires subsequent plot hoop-jumping) and the other is Chul-soo's attack on Su-jin's ex-boyfriend - a totally unwarranted (and unbelievable) plot twist that should have been consigned to the cutting room floor.
A final brief mention of the theme of memories and the soul is also made, shortly following Su-jin's diagnosis, but is so passing that it is easily lost within the utterly heart-wrenching (and deeply moving) scene in which it appears and, though the subsequent story is still incredibly engaging without it, it really is a pity that it is never expanded further.
A film with a subject matter such as this could, obviously, never end with a happily ever after but though the final scene of our couple driving into the distance is an understandable attempt to end on a less bleak note it leaves behind a slight aftertaste of attempts to put hope where it could never be.
However, if Chul-soo had not been allowed to utter the final phrase of his dialogue in the film, things would have been a lot worse.
From beginning to end, A Moment To Remember deliberately sets out to give viewers no alternative but to feel the emotions it wants you to feel - and, contrivances or not, it regularly succeeds.
Cinematically, A Moment To Remember is accomplished. The film looks beautiful and there really is a feeling of no expense being spared. Pacing is spot on throughout and the camera work compliments the gorgeous-looking scenes to a tee. The musical score is pretty much mood music by numbers but still effectively adds to the overall feel of proceedings; especially in the happy (2nd) stage and in the couple of non-dialogue "montages".
I've spoken quite a bit about the talent of Son Ye-jin in other reviews and in A Moment To Remember she truly outdoes herself. Her portrayal of Su-jin is note perfect and easily the most moving and engaging present. Her emotional range is massive with her innate ability to believably convey not only what her character is showing outwardly but also what's beneath the surface. If you only want one reason to see A Moment To Remember, Son Ye-jin's captivating personification of Su-jin is it.
Jung Woo-sung also gives a memorable performance as Chul-soo. Early on in proceedings there isn't as much to his character as would allow him to put more into the role but once into the second stage of the film (post marriage), as the plot expands his character, he begins to shine; pulling out all the stops by the final stage, concluding the story. He and Son-ye-jin work extremely well together showing great chemistry and between the two of them are responsible for the majority of emotional resonance throughout.
The remaining roles in A Moment To Remember are very much supporting parts, but all those concerned perform admirably with the only criticism being that of the role of the doctor - the portrayal of which comes across as slightly more "mad scientist" than medical expert.
While the plot of A Moment To Remember is contrived and manipulative, it still manages to be both engaging and affecting - with Son Ye-jin's astounding performance selling every line - and as the credits roll, you'll find yourself thinking that you should have (and did) know better, but a part of you will secretly be glad you didn't listen.
Son Ye-jin... Su-jin
Jung Woo-sung... Chul-soo
Baek Jong-hak... Yeong-min
Lee Sun-jin... Ahn Na-jeong
Park Sang-gyu... Mr. Kim
Kim Hie-ryeong... Mother
Seon Ji-hyun... Jeong-eun
Kim Bu-seon... Madam Oh
edition reviewed here is the Korean (Region 3) Limited Edition Director's Cut release
from CJ Entertainment, which consists of a two disc DVD package. The film itself is
provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
There are no image artifacts or ghosting present, and the transfer is exceptionally clear, taken from a pristine print. Colours are rich and justice really is given to the beautiful images present.
The original Korean
language soundtrack is provided as a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 and each is clear and expansive.
Excellent subtitles are provided
throughout the main feature.
As this is a limited edition 2-Disc release, DVD extras are extensive - details can be found below.
*English speaking viewers should be aware that there are no subtitles available on any of the extra features.*
Disc 1 :
- Making of “A Moment To Remember”
- Behind the Scenes - Staff of “A Moment To Remember”
- Deleted Scenes & NG
- PR File
1) Teaser 1 / Teaser 2 / TV spot
Disc 2 :
- Parallel Action (1min. / NYU first short)
- John's Portfolio (2005 Updated)
• Director: Lee Jae-han
• Format: NTSC,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Subtitles: English, Korean
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0, DTS 5.1
• Region: Region 3
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 2
• Classification: 12
• Run Time: 145 minutes (approx.) Director's Cut / 117 minutes (approx.) Theatrical Cut