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Literally titled “pure” in the original Korean, debuting director Lee Eun-hee’s summery coming-of-age tragic romance, Unforgettable, is the kind of frothy-dark drama the industry cranks out so well when it’s not producing bloody revenge thrillers. This bittersweet tale about the last summer together of a group of friends in their Goheung County hometown trades in convention at every turn. But fans of the genre are likely to eat it up, even if — perhaps because — it’s not quite as maudlin as it could be.
Relying heavily on thematic and tonal association with films like The Classic and Il Mare, where a totem from the past recalls lost love, the movie isn’t as rounded as those, and has less impact due to an underwhelming lead performance. However, Unforgettable could generate moderate interest in Asia, especially China, where Korean-Chinese boy-band star Doh Kyung-soo’s immense popularity will provide a boost. Elsewhere, prospects are limited, even in urban overseas markets.
The story kicks off when a radio DJ (Park Young-woo) — yes radio, with ratings problems and a tape deck in the studio — receives a two-decades old letter that sends his mind (along with Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” for some reason) racing back to the summer of 1991.
Flashing back to that year in his provincial southern Korean village, the DJ, then called Bumsil (Doh, best known as D.O. in EXO), reunites with his friends. They are scattered during the school year except for Suok (Kim So-hyun), hampered by a bum leg and a progressive degenerative illness that makes getting around difficult. Little do the kids know it at the time, but it will be their last summer together (though seasoned Korean teen tragedy viewers will know it the minute Suok limps off the ferry pier).
Detailing the narrative is needless: There’s a singing contest, a burgeoning romance between Bumsil and Suok, personal growth, misunderstandings, heightened teen emotions, false hope brought to Suok by a city doctor and finally, tragedy. It’s standard coming-of-age/loss of innocence stuff, undermined by cliche at every step.
The kids are cookie-cutter archetypes: Bumsil is moody; Suok is frail; Sandol (Yeon-Jun-seok) is the distance-runner golden boy; Gilja (Joo Da-young) is headstrong, meaning shrill and pushy; and Gaeduk (Lee Da-wit) is pudgy. That’s pretty much it for personality in the script by Lee and co-writer Han Chang-hoon.
The young cast turn in respectable but unremarkable performances, with the exception of the dead-eyed Doh, who never manages to infuse Bumsil with anything beyond surly teen angst. For all the tears that inevitably fall, Unforgettable never manages to connect the characters wholly to each other or the viewer.
Director Lee doesn’t display much in the way of visual flair, making it difficult to determine whether she’s a vibrant new voice or not. She does, however, keep the hyper-emotionalism to a minimum and displays a sure hand when it comes to creating the dynamic among the friends. Their casual, spontaneous moments together at a barbecue, or stealing a fishing boat for a joyride, are the film’s best scenes, and it would have benefited from more of them. Technical work is characteristically strong coming out of South Korea but, like the rest of the film, it’s also rote and unimaginative.
Production company: Jupiter Film
Cast: Doh Kyung-soo, Kim So-hyun, Yeon Jun-seok, Lee Da-wit, Joo Da-young, Park Young-woo, Park Hae-joon, Kim Ji-ho, Lee Beom-su, Lee Dae-yon, Hwang Seok-jeong, Park Jung-min, Kim Kwon, O Yu-hin
Director: Lee Eun-hee
Screenwriters: Han Chang-hoon, Lee Eun-hee
Producers: Jeong Mun-gu, Bang Mi-jung, Joo Pil-ho
Executive producer: Kwon Ji Won
Director of photography: Lee Joon-gyo
Editor: Kim Hyeong-joo
Music: Lee Jin-su
World sales: Little Big Pictures
Not rated, 114 minutes
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