Rediscovered love is a frequent theme of romantic dramas, even if circumstances often don’t turn out as anticipated for the hopeful couples involved. South Korean writer-director Park Heung-sik’s third feature unfolds as another familiar wish-fulfillment exercise, but offers few insights or unique situations, shortcomings likely to limit the film primarily to festival and Korean-speaking audiences following the film’s domestic opening last week.
On a trip to Italy to participate in the Torino Film Festival, filmmaker Ming-gu (Kim Seung-Woo) spots his former college girlfriend Min-ha (Lee Tae-Ran) on the flight from Seoul. Although they’re now both middle-aged, he’s overwhelmed by nostalgia and stops to greet her, but since she doesn’t seem to recognize him, he continues on his way. Min-ha meanwhile reunites with her step-daughter, who’s studying in Turin, so it’s not until a couple of days later that Ming-gu spots her again and deliberately approaches her.
This time it’s Park who’s overwhelmed as they share an unexpected embrace after 20 years. With time on his hands, Ming-gu invites her to visit a nearby museum with him in the hopes of finding works by Italian realist painter Caravaggio. Both sense an immediate reconnection and after spending a passionate night together, Ming-gu suggests that they rent a car and tour Tuscany for a few days. Min-ha, an ophthalmologist, turns out to be something of an amateur expert on Italian art and culture after previous trips visiting the country, providing Ming-gu with an enthusiastic running commentary during their stops at museums and historic sites. After recently turning 40, she blithely entertains the idea that she’s been rejuvenated and is now experiencing her “second 20.”
Her old flame seems more intent on rekindling their relationship, however, despite having a wife and kids back home in South Korea. Widowed for several years, Min-ha enjoys their reunion and the frequent intimacy, but insists that their affair should conclude at the end of the trip. Ming-gu nonetheless searches for a pretext to continue the liaison, contemplating a divorce and a new life with Min-ha, who it seems would require substantial persuasion to alter her decision.
Min-ha and Ming-gu pursue their renewed romance in part by convincing one another that after 20 years they’ve come full circle and that their affair is somehow fitting based on this contrived chronological cycle, although Ming-gu seems entirely unconcerned about betraying his wife and family. This ongoing fabrication recalls the volubility of a Richard Linklater or Noah Baumbach feature, with Park’s script devoting substantial screen time to conversations rehashing the couple’s former relationship, along with inevitable misunderstandings and petty resentments that are neither especially unique nor particularly interesting.
Kim and Lee’s performances are adequate enough to clear the relatively low bar that the film establishes and the Italian locations are enticingly scenic, but there’s never a sense that this is a relationship for the ages, or even one with the potential to endure beyond the couple’s romantic side trip.
Production companies: Min Film, Little Big Pictures
Cast: Kim Seung-Woo, Lee Tae-Ran
Director-writer: Park Heung-Sik
Producers: Sohn Jung-in, Hur Seung
Director of photography: An Sung-kuen
Editors: Park Gok-ji, Lee Yun-hee
Venue: Hawaii International Film Festival
Not rated, 125 minutes