Romantic dramas are one of the most highly produced genres within the Korean entertainment industry, with the films and TV dramas continual hits throughout South-East Asian countries. As such, there is enormous pressure to provide audiences with the predictable pleasures offered by the generic conventions, but to also offer something different, something fresh, to keep the story engaging.
Bungee Jumping of Their Own (번지점프를 하다) is such a film. Directed by Kim Dae-seung (김대승), the first act is a rather bland and predictable effort yet truly shines during later scenes. This is due to not only the alternative approach in exploring traditional notions of romance, but also notably the manner in which homosexual relationships are explored – and judged – within Korean society. Despite the grammatically incorrect title, Bungee Jumping of Their Own is an original and fresh take on the genre, and leaves a lasting impression long after the credits roll.
In a traditional tale of boy meets girl, university student Seo In-woo (Lee Byeong-Heon (이병헌) finds the girl of his dreams during a rainstorm. Luckily for him, In Tae-hee (Lee Eun-joo (이은주) also studies at the same institute and they develop a deep and lasting romance. However, In-woo’s mandatory two year military service approaches and on the day of his departure, Tae-hee doesn’t appear. Several years later In-woo, now married and a father, is a teacher at a high school in Seoul. For a reason he can’t explain, he finds himself drawn to one of his male students Im Hyeon-bin (Yeo Hyeon-soo (여현수), and his repressed memories of his love with Tae-hee begin to unexpectedly resurface.
The opening of the film wonderfully captures the awkwardness of the first meeting between two lovers. Director Kim Dae-seung’s style, clearly influenced by his time as assistant director to Im Kwon-taek, shines through as the couple exchange nervous glances in the rain without daring to speak. In-woo’s longing to see Tae-hee again and to say something – anything – is palpable, and the intensity of his emotions are conveyed expertly through Lee Byeong-Heon’s performance. Unfortunately however, after such a compelling opening Bungee Jumping of Their Own takes a turn for the worse as the relationship between the central couple develops in a haphazard and erratic fashion, so much so that it undermines the romance altogether. Chiefly this is due to the lack of tender moments that bring Tae-hee and In-woo together naturally, as well as the editing which wildly jumps time frames to disorientating effect. In-woo is also much more of a stalker than a love-lorn young man, as he simply follows Tae-hee and waits in her classes despite studying a different subject. Therefore when the couple do finally come together it feels forced rather than passionate, although this trend does alter slightly as In-woo’s military service approaches.
Where Bungee Jumping of Their Own really comes into its own is when In-woo is an adult, teaching at a high school. Married and a father, In-woo is an excellent teacher who commands the respect of his students through mutual respect and trust. Interestingly the film shares focus between him and one his students, Hyeon-bin, who is in a similar situation with his girlfriend as Tae-hee and In-woo all those years ago. The relationship between teacher and student is developed well as both men become increasingly closer, sparking a host of rumours throughout the school as to the nature of their connection. The narrative therefore alters into an exploration of the acceptance – or more precisely, the lack of acceptance – of homosexuality. The name-calling, graffiti, and other homophobic devices employed by those within the school are genuinely unsettling, whilst at the center both In-woo and Hyeon-bin feel a mutual attraction that neither can fully explain or understand.
The manner in which In-woo attempts to address his desires for Hyeon-bin are a mixture of amusement, sadness and horror as he desperately seeks to assert his hetero-masculinity and retain his identity. Yet despite his efforts, In-woo’s longing for Hyeon-bin is sincere and poignant, and clearly uncontrollable. In each instance it is the incredible acting prowess of Lee Byeong-heon that conveys such potency as a man confused about his sexuality and the resurgence of past memories, with each gesture and action contributing in the conveyance of his adoration and reluctance. Indeed, one of the actor’s greatest assets is his eyes for when he looks at Hyeon-bin the pure sincerity of his love is keenly apparent, arguably much more so than during scenes with Tae-hee. While Yeo Hyeon-soo provides a competent performance as the student love interest, Bungee Jumping of Their Own is a testament to Lee Byeon-heon’s acting ability. As for Lee Eun-joo, the actress gives a radiant, almost otherworldly performance as Tae-hee. Such an approach could easily be conveyed as aloof arrogance but she grounds the shyness and reluctance of the character well and, combined with her staggering beauty, it is impossible not to be moved. The knowledge of Lee Eun-joo’s untimely death prior to watching the film also adds an air of tragedy to an already poignant romantic drama.
While the first act may be the stuff of traditional generic romantic dramas, Bungee Jumping of Their Own genuinely shines when it rejects such conventions and explores the notions of love through its alternative and quite original perspective. Director Kim Dae-seung conveys the majesty and romance of scenes as well as the difficulties of smaller more intimate moments, while Lee Byeong-heon is excellent as a sexually confused love-lore figure. Bungee Jumping of Their Own is an entertaining and thought-provoking film, one which will certainly reverberate with audiences long after the final credits roll.