Suddenly, Last Summer (지난여름, 갑자기) is a wonderfully moving and understated short film, and certainly the best of director Lee Song Hee-il’s (이송희일) 2012 trilogy comprised of White Night (백야) and Going South (남쪽으로 간다). In each segment of the trilogy the theme of two men spending a prolonged period of time together in a day is explored, with Suddenly, Last Summer exploring this dynamic between thirty-something high school teacher Kyeong-hoon (경훈, Kim Yeong-jae (김영재) and student Sang-woo (상우, Han Joo-wan (한주완). Typically films that delve into such age and society-related relationships attempt to portray a morality tale of some sort, yet director Leesong eschews melodramatic cliches in order to convey a psychologically complex connection between the protagonists, emerging as a mature and thought-provoking examination on the subject.
Key to the potency of Suddenly, Last Summer is the manner in which director Leesong presents information about the relationship between Kyeong-hoon and Sang-woo, and how such revelations develop their connection. Initially Sang-woo, an attractive young gay student, appears to be infatuated with the teacher, stalking him and making unfair demands. Yet as they engage in various conversations throughout the day, moments from the past are subtly referenced adding layers upon layers of complexity to their relationship, discussing and debating prior actions that may or may not have contained deeper meanings and the inferences generated from them. Director Leesong refuses to either condone or condemn the protagonists, instead opting to examine their internal struggles between desires as gay men and societal responsibilities.
Director Leesong’s films always display a keen artistic sensibility, and with Suddenly, Last Summer this most notably appears through the repetition of water imagery. In taking a river cruise in the popular Yeouido area, Kyeong-hoon and Sang-woo open themselves to the tranquil beauty of the water, ebbing and flowing against a romantic-charged soundtrack. The blue tones of the Han River also work well in conjunction with the protagonists’ shirts. The pure white that envelops Sang-woo conveys his purity and innocence, his single-minded approach to life, yet Kyeong-hoon’s blue shirt connotes an older, more mature persona. The actors wonderfully articulate such sensibilities through their performances, with Kim Yeong-jae providing a highly effective and restrained performance as the morally-conflicted teacher, palpably displaying his discontent facially. Meanwhile Han Joo-wan connotes his youthful frustrations well, flitting between moments of maturity and adolescence in expressing his desires.
Despite their differing styles, both men clearly harbour a similar emotional discord which unites them, even though society states it is inappropriate. Their confusion is wonderfully articulated through the labyrinthine landscape of the apartment buildings, with the many twists and turns articulating their own psychological dilemmas. It is this moral and psychological complexity that makes Suddenly, Last Summer such a compelling film, and a welcome entry into Korean queer cinema.
Suddenly, Last Summer is a subtle and moving exploration of the relationship between a high school teacher and student. Director Leesong Hee-il delicately inserts information throughout that continually evolves the connection between them, challenging preconceptions while never adopting a moral position, and as such is the best film in the director’s 2012 trilogy.
Some reviews I read (can’t remember where) considered this one the weakest of the trilogy. I’m glad to see you liked it best of the three, I did as well. And we noted the same weaknesses in White Night – Tae-jun’s behaviour not quite making sense (sticking to Won-gyu all night) & the fact that it doesn’t have quite enough material for a feature-length film.
Reading your Leesong Hee-il reviews I’m reminded again that your blog is one of the few that I read where I think the blogger actually writes well (a lot of people write interesting reviews, but I don’t think they all write well). 🙂
Wow, thank you so much for the compliment! It’s much appreciated ^.^ Some of the blogs/reviews out there are so awfully written, I agree. I just wish I had more time to write more reviews and features to create a bigger database of information. Maybe in the (hopefully near) future.
I’m glad we agree on Leesong Hee-il’s films. I thought I was in the minority, but I read reviews on Sight and Sound and Film Biz Asia that agreed with my (and our) perspective(s), which made me feel kind of vindicated!
Blogs that are completely awful I don’t usually read at all, but I’m more thinking of those that are somewhere mid-way, where I might appreciate the person’s thoughts but get slightly annoyed at word repetition, cliché expressions or little things of the sort. And sometimes I feel surprised that this seems to matter little: some of these blogs seem quite popular, while others that offer a much better quality appear to go much more unnoticed.
Of course, we all have pieces that are better than others – I certainly have some of my own that I reread and half-groan about, thinking they are at best okay.
I think you are amazingly productive, it seems like there is a new blog post every day or two on Hanguk Yeonghwa, and I’m talking reviews not ‘here’s a list of films screening at this festival’ type of pieces (which take much less effort to write of course).
Thanks again for the compliment alua, it’s really nice to know my writing is appreciated 🙂 Of course I enjoy your writing as well, I prefer your more academic/professional approach to the ‘stream of consciousness’ style so apparent on other sites. And I wholeheartedly agree with you about other more popular sites, it makes a person wonder how that popularity was achieved. I think you’re more productive than me! I look forward to reading more of your work in the near future 🙂