"You... took me when I was in high school.
A young girl lost her father and you forced her legs apart. Is that what you call love?"
During his search to find out where he came from, and who his parents were, adoptee Jin-woo, (Ryoo Soo-yeong), is put in contact with a woman (Gi-ok, played by Song Ok-sook) who claims to remember him as a child. On meeting her, she begins to tell him the story of his mother and father, and as she recounts her tale, we step back in time to see Sang-ho (also played by Ryoo Soo-yeong), on the run for his (minor) involvement in the Kwangju uprising.
Arriving at a small village to lay low until the situation settles down, Sang-ho moves into a first floor apartment in a rundown building, and before long becomes intrigued with music emanating from the apartment below.
His curiosity growing, he makes a small hole in the floor to spy through, and sees a beautiful, scantily clad, woman (played by Kim Ji-hyeon) lying on a bed in the room below.
As he continues to peep through the floor at the woman and her husband (who keeps his wife a virtual prisoner, even locking her in the apartment when he leaves for work), Sang-ho can't help but become increasingly aroused, and with his inadvertent discovery of the keys to their home on the steps outside his apartment, decides to break in, in the hope of having sex with the woman for real...
The Kwangu uprising (the Romanization of which is often written as Gwangju), and the far reaching fallout from it, pervades the very core of Summer Time, not only as an underlying aspect of the overall narrative but also as the ultimate reason for the main characters' current situations, as well as the indirect cause of their future actions (see the end of this review for a brief overview of the Kwangju uprising).
The small community around which the film centres also serves as a microcosm of Korean society as a whole at the time, with care taken by the filmmakers to ensure that the day-to-day lives of the 'village' inhabitants reference numerous social and political issues throughout - women's place and treatment within society; Korea's historically patriarchal nature; working conditions of the everyday 80's man and woman; and even the monetary constraints and issues with which they were faced on a daily basis.
Of course, by far the largest of society's ills dissected within Summer Time are those relating directly to the events surrounding the Kwangju uprising itself, with each of the main characters holding a mirror, if you like, to one of the factions that ultimately came to devastating blows in May 1980, and while these references could never be described as anywhere near subtle (and could even be said to be overly obvious in parts), they easily serve their purpose, nonetheless:
The character of Sang-ho stands for, and as part of, the student protesters, his only minor involvement in the demonstrations adding to, and reaffirming, his belief that he (and thereby the students as a whole) has done nothing wrong, while the story of the (unnamed) object of his affections in the flat below (raped as a young girl by her then policeman husband to be - as she was mourning the death of her father during the unrest - and subsequently forced to live under virtual house arrest; her life shown to be utterly controlled by her husband, i.e.: citizens held under Martial Law by the government) speaks of innocent civilians caught up in the events at Kwangju despite having no direct involvement in them, and the combination of her story with that of Sang-ho clearly references the huge price which had to be paid by so many for the slow, painful move to democracy in Korea.
The (again, unnamed) husband, obviously, plays the part of the authorities during the uprising - his harsh treatment of his wife and the way he ultimately deals with her affair mirroring the hard line taken against Kwangju residents by the government, police and military troops alike - and as much as his actions affect the other characters in Summer Time (again speaking of the battle between government and civilians), the changes he goes through, as well as his resultant choices, could be said to be a reflection of the slow changes within Korea itself (again in terms of government/authority figures) in the years following the Kwangju uprising.
Even the character of Gi-ok (the woman who tells Jin-woo the story of his parents) could be considered to be part of the discussion of the authoritarian actions taking place in Kwangju during the period, with her choices outwardly driven by social morals, rights and wrongs and the greater good, while below the surface being clearly brought on by a far more personal agenda.
Spread copiously on top of the social and political commentary of Summer Time is the sexual affair of Jin-woo and his beautiful neighbour, and while this forms the most involved sexual content of the film, it is far from isolated in that respect. Jin-woo's affair, as already stated, begins as voyeurism - an activity indulged in by more than just him in his community, and, in fact, the vast majority of the testosterone-fuelled antics of the males of the village add yet more to the implication that women of the time were, first and foremost, sexual objects (rather than equal members of society), there predominately to serve the needs and pleasures of men.
Summer Time was rated as Category III on its released, and though no full frontal nudity appears within it, it nonetheless feels even more explicit than many films containing far greater sexual imagery. This is due (in part, at least) to the camera work, the choice of angles and the framing of scenes, and it must be said that repeated instances where filming takes place from incredibly voyeuristic angles (a man trying to peep up a young woman's short skirt as she climbs the apartment stairs filmed from an equal height to that of the voyeur himself; or the beautiful unnamed neighbour of Jin-woo, scantily clad and doing exercises, filmed from a deeply graphic perspective - to mention but two examples) serves to force viewers to become somewhat voyeurs themselves, and, with the narrative easily holding the attention throughout, leaves audience members repeatedly feeling that they shouldn't really be looking, but continuing to watch, all the same.
The sexual content (both the voyeuristic elements and the consensual) in Summer Time is also deeply erotic in its realisation, yet again adding to the almost subconscious feeling the film is more explicit than it actually is in reality. However, the one downside to this is the fact that there are so many sex scenes within the film's running time that they threaten (on more than one occasion) to push aside the important and worthy discussions contained within the narrative.
The ultimate success of the film's conclusion will be largely dependent on whether individual viewers can keep hold of the threads of the underlying commentary, or if they simply get bogged down (or caught up) by the sheer volume of sex and eroticism on show.
The Kwangju uprising and the events subsequent to it were deeply significant to the South Korean democratic movement. Student pro-democracy demonstrations (protesting against the increasingly harsh policies brought in by General Chun Doo-hwan) resulted in violent clashes between government troops and student protestors between May 18th and May 27th 1980, with angry citizens also soon joining in. By the time that the clashes had finally subsided, an estimated 200 people were dead, most of them civilians. The Kwangju uprising also led to the eventual arrest and imprisonment of two former South Korean presidents, and was also thought to have triggered a rise in anti-American sentiment in Korea, as a result of claims that the Reagan administration had strongly endorsed the use of force in quelling the riot.
The majority of the cast give excellent performances in Summer Time, but Kim Ji-hyeon and Choi Cheol-ho, as the beautiful object of Sang-ho affections and her authoritarian ex-policeman husband respectively, easily outshine the rest.
Kim Ji-hyeon gives the film the vast majority of its eroticism, entirely on her own, and she positively breathes life, love, loss and lust onto the screen throughout. With so much sexual content and so many voyeuristic camera angles present throughout the film, the ease with which she carrys the role is even more noteworthy.
Choi Cheol-ho adds the necessary hard hitting aspects of the narrative to his accomplished performance and, of all the male characters, is easily the most memorable.
Note should also be made of Song Ok-sook's portrayal of Gi-ok: Though much less involved than the other main character roles, her believable portrayal ultimately holds the narrative together on more than one ocassion.
Cast (Actor... Character):
Kim Ji-hyeon… Hee-ran (the beautiful woman who has an affair with Sang-ho - listed in the film credits but never named within the film)
Ryoo Soo-yeong… Jin-woo/Sang-ho
Song Ok-sook… Gi-ok
Choi Cheol-ho… Tae-yeol (again, never specifically named within the film)
Ahn Byeong-kyeong… Mr. Park
Choi Seong-min… Kyeong-cheol
Summer Time dissects and discusses the events surrounding, and subsequent to, the Kwangju uprising of 1980 within a deeply erotic and highly sexually charged narrative, and its ultimate success is largely dependent on whether or not individual viewers get overly bogged down (or caught up) by the sheer volume of sex and eroticism on show.
edition reviewed here is the Korean (Region 3) Enter One Single Disc release. The film itself is
provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and there are no image artifacts (and no ghosting) present.
The original Korean
language soundtrack is provided as a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and is clear and well balanced throughout.
Excellent subtitles are provided
throughout the main feature but English-speaking viewers should note that, as with many Korean DVD releases, there are no subtitles available on any of the extras.
• Director: Park Jae-ho
• Format: NTSC,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
• Region: Region 3
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: Category III (Korean Film Classification)
• Run Time: 104 minutes (approx.)
- Making Of Featurette
- Bed Scenes (Compilation)
- Music Video
- NG Cut
- Stills Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer