Promise (약속) is a short film that explores the final stages of a relationship between a husband and wife. However, their relationship is far from typical; the husband is comatose, and while his eyes may be open he has no physical functions whatsoever. His wife is also his carer, helping to wash, clean and dress her now incredibly sick partner. Promise is her story, played admirably by Kim Si-jeong (김시정), and her internal conflict between staying with the man she married or starting her life again.
Director Yang Hyeon-ah (양현아) consistently frames his protagonist as alone and under pressure, as she must not only endure her husband’s illness but also the tenuous relationship with her bitter mother-in-law and her new boyfriend’s desperate attempts to start afresh together. Despite everything, she intends to be a devoted wife until the divorce is legally declared. Kim Si-jeong performs the role incredibly well as she changes from stoic to desperate, prepared to do anything to force a response from her spouse before it’s too late. Initially she appears uncaring, but her performance hides the many layers of the character until the final stages.
Promise is a poignant and compelling tale about the difficulties of separation. Ironically, what is perhaps most frustrating about the short film is that it is a short film. The short running time halts the more penetrative feature film that Promise should be. The narrative is a touching humanist story, one that deserves a longer running time and more probing analysis into the difficulties of ending this type of relationship in modern Korea. In its 25 minutes, Promise unfortunately cannot fulfill its potential. However, it is a truly captivating story that explores an emotional conundrum with maturity and dignity, and signals that director Yang Hyun-ah and actress Kim Si-jeong are talents to watch.