A woman caring for her hospitalized son comes to realize she doesn’t know him nearly as well as she thinks she does in In Between Seasons, an alternately bright and inert family drama premiering in Busan’s New Currents competition section.
Based on director Lee Dong-eun’s own comic book, In Between Seasons would probably have been best served remaining on the page, where panels can be lingered over — or not — at the reader’s discretion. As a film, those same panels frequently come across as stagnant sequences, making it easy to forget this is indeed a “motion” picture. Despite its extended, sloth-like second act, Seasons begins and ends on engaging notes, but that’s sadly not where the heart of Lee’s film rests (that would be the plodding middle). Festival life is nonetheless a possibility for In Between Seasons, even though it lacks the edgy tone the circuit gravitates to, and box-office success seems remote, being too commercial for art house release. Limited exposure in Asia could be in the offing given the popularity of television star Bae Jong-ok, but that’s about it.
The films “starts” with a car wreck before flashing back to four years earlier in Daejeon, a provincial city about 90 minutes south of Seoul, when star student Soohyun (Ji Yoonho) introduces his mother, Meekyung, to his friend Yongjun (Lee Wongeun, Kim Ki-duk’s The Net). Meekyung (Bae, Jealousy Is My Middle Name), who does not get on with her absent husband frequently working in the Philippines, takes to Yongjun like a second son; they travel together to visit Soohyun when he goes on leave from his military service, and she acts as something of a surrogate mother to Yongjun, whose own mother committed suicide years before. But when the young men are in a car accident that injures Yongjun and puts Soohyun in a coma, she uncovers some uncomfortable (for her) truths about their relationship and cuts Yongjun out of their lives.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Yongjun and Soohyun are young lovers, and to his credit Lee dispenses with the preferred cinematic trope of making its gay characters suffer needlessly. Admittedly the car crash is a bit harsh, but in this case it’s the tool Lee uses to achieve his broader goal — which is a chronicle of the slow (again, emphasis on slow) thaw between Meekyung and Yongjun, and the establishment of a new relational standard between them. Lee barely acknowledges Meekyung’s homophobia or absence of it, addressing the issue only fleetingly by having her wonder, “What did I do wrong?” and tossing a few softball questions at Yongjun about how they met. Meekyung’s gradual acceptance of Yongjun and Soohyun comes through action — namely Yongjun’s selfless care for the convalescing Soohyun.
In Between Seasons is arguably the most polished, most mainstream entry in this year’s New Currents program, complete with a gauzy, soft-focus love scene (at least the boys look happy), but its pacing problems trump its good intentions. Lee sprinkles moments that provide character background throughout the narrative that enlighten less than they bring the film to a screeching halt. Meekyung’s eventual divorce, Yongjun’s troubled family life and anything revolving around Meekyung’s Ladies Who Lunch could easily have been excised or suggested instead of painstakingly detailed: None of those things is what the film is about. Thankfully the film has Lee and Ji to carry it over its weak patches. They manage a comfortable, intimate dynamic, at their best in precrash flashbacks (not coincidentally when the film is at its most lively) and when injecting the bittersweet ending with a wisp of optimism.
Production company: Myung Films Institute
Cast: Bae Jongok, Lee Wongeun, Ji Yoonho, Park Wonsang, Seo Jungyeon, Woo Ji-hyeon
Director-screenwriter: Lee Dong-eun
Producer: Kim Jiyoung
Director of photography: Lee Kun-sol
Production designer: Gwon Hayan
Costume designer: Lee Jinah
Editor: Oh Byeongjoo
Music: Do Jaemyung
No rating, 116 minutes