The weather mirrors the emotionally fraught couple

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다) – ★★★★☆

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다)

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다)

The break-up of a relationship is an oft explored area in television, yet in film the realism of such events tends to be eschewed in favor of either a dramatic arena of affairs and/or substance abuse, or the catalyst for comical shenanigans in an attempt to cope with the loss. The financial motivations behind such decisions are understandable, given that their success is dependent on the detachment from reality and the predictable pleasures they provide. Yet, what of the relationships where the love and passion simply dissipate?

Come Rain Come Shine (사랑한다, 사랑하지 않는다), literally translated as ‘I Love You, I Don’t Love You’, is a mediation on the breakdown of a couple and is a slow, thought-provoking film that poignantly conveys the emotional turmoil they experience during their final day together. The film was (rather unfairly) criticised upon release for the slow paced narrative and the lack of events therein, yet in the attempt to convey realism director Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) has produced a calm and moderated exploration that deviates from typical audience expectations.

Driving his wife Yeong-shin (Im Soo-jeong (임수정) to Gimpo Airport, Ji-seok (Hyeon Bin (현빈) engages in small talk despite the strangely tense atmosphere between them. After the conversation runs dry, Yeong-shin announces that she is leaving him and will be shortly moving out of their home. Worse still is that she has been seeing another man, a fact she accuses Ji-seok of knowing but ignoring. Bizarrely, Ji-seok appears quiet but unfazed. Days later, Yeong-shin is packing her belongings at home while Ji-seok attempts to make the dissolution of their marriage easier by making coffee, preparing dinner, and helping with the packing. As they awkwardly converse and reminisce over items, Yeong-shin and Ji-seok discover the emotional distress and difficulty in the finality of their marriage.

Yeong-shin announces to Ji-seok that she will leave him

Yeong-shin announces she will leave Ji-seok

The themes of alienation and loneliness are conveyed by director Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) with incredible sensitivity and confidence throughout Come Rain Come Shine, as he allows the tense atmosphere created by the mise-en-scene to portray the hardship the couple endure rather than relying on melodrama. This focus on realism is enhanced further by his continual use of long takes which makes the tension between the central protagonists palpable. The opening scene in which Ji-seok drives Yeong-shin to the airport is a long take approximately eight minutes in length, conveying the search for small talk and the awkward silences as features of their relationship which now lacks intimacy and spontaneity. The realism conveyed through the voyeuristic gaze makes for slightly uncomfortable viewing due to their lack of communication and the resulting tension, playing upon the audience’s expectations that a confrontation must occur to disrupt the calm yet strained atmosphere. However as the take is so long, Lee Yoon-ki lulls audience into a false sense of stability which then serves to enhance the shock of Yeong-shin’s announcement she will leave her husband for another man.

Later at the house, Yeong-shin packs her belongings ready to vacate and leave Ji-seok. The house itself is  an incredible element of the mise-en-scene due the various floors that are present, with Lee Yoon-ki utilizing it to convey how the couple are exist on different levels, drift apart, and come together. Each floor, and each room, is unique in portraying the internal conflict within both protagonists, such as Yeong-shin’s isolated higher-tiered office compared with the basement which contains memories over which they reminisce, functioning as the foundation for the house as well as their relationship. The lighting within the house is incredible as the muted tones and lack of colour drain the emotion and passion from the environment, painstakingly exemplifying the numbness within Ji-seok and Yeong-shin. In addition the torrential downpour of rain throughout conveys the sadness both within the protagonists and of the event itself, which ironically forces the couple to communicate and spend more time together as nature seemingly desires the pair try once more – a feature that Lee Yoon-ki respects audiences, whether optimistic or pessimistic, to decide for themselves.

The weather mirrors the emotionally fraught couple

The weather mirrors the emotionally fraught couple

The performances of Im Soo-jeong as Yeong-sin and Hyeon Bin as Ji-seok came under scrutiny upon the release of Come Rain Come Shine which, when taken into consideration that melodrama is enormous popular in Korea, is understandable yet unfair. Both high-profile actors are incredibly talented with a catalogue of successful films and dramas, yet Come Rain Come Shine is a drastic departure from the roles – and expectations – of their previous work. The subtlety contained within their facial expressions and mannerisms conveys the abundance of emotional turmoil contained within. Im Soo-jeong initially projects a cold and heartless persona, yet her desire for passion and love from her highly reserved husband and her reluctance to leave tenderly present themselves as the finality of their situation becomes more apparent. Hyeon Bin is also charismatic in his role as while his quiet and humble nature is continually present, the moments in which he is alone reveal the overwhelming sadness that threatens to engulf him. Despite this he feels incapable of changing the situation yet his chivalry and kindness indicate his desperation to resolve the conflict.

The multiple levels within the house are symbolic of the relationship

The multiple levels within the house are symbolic of the relationship

Verdict:

Come Rain Come Shine is a tender, thought-provoking, and sensitive portrayal of the final moments in the break-down of a marriage. Due to the slow-paced and meditative filmic style of director Lee Yoon-ki, the film will not satisfy audiences with expectations of melodrama and comedy, or an amalgamation thereof.  However, the realism conveyed through the masterful use of mise-en-scene and long takes, in conjunction with the subtle and highly poignant performances, make Come Rain Come Shine a powerful film about the tenderness of loss.

★★★★☆

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Director Kim Jee-woon's exquisite use of colour enhances the tension

A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련) – ★★★★☆

A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련)

A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련)

It’s no secret that Western horror films tend to encapsulate social anxieties that must be stamped out by a conservative, traditional force. Such allegorical styles often fall into either socio-political anxieties, as with zombie films such as Romero’s catalogue of work including Dawn of the Dead (1978), or feminist/youth/sexual freedom in teen slasher films, such as the Halloween (1978-2009) series. Occasionally a psychoanalytic classic horror like Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) will be released to critical acclaim, yet after the furore has died down generic films depicting unrestrained teenage rebellion rise once more.

Asian horror films are markedly different. The allegorised social anxieties are more spiritual in nature and are often located within the homestead, exploring notions of family, technology, and ethical behaviour exemplified by films such as the Ring series (1998), Ju-on: The Grudge series (2003-2012), and The Eye series (2002). As with the West, attempts are made to control the disturbances yet they tend to be more patriarchal in nature, and the father/senior’s attempts at control often make the situation worse. Ultimately, the protagonist must unveil the mystery behind the source of horror, rather than suppress it. As such, Asian horror films are more inherently psychological in nature as they explore ‘the self’ in conjunction with spirituality whilst rejecting male chauvinism.

A Tale of Two Sisters not only exemplifies this trend, but is also an incredible and unique addition to the genre. Soo-mi (Im Soo-jeong (임수정) and younger sister Soo-yeon (Moon Geun-yeong (문근영) return to their family home in the country after a trip away. It’s not long before the sisters come into conflict with their new spiteful step-mother Eun-joo (Yeom Jeong-ah (염정아), while their stoic father Moo-hyeon (Kim Kap-soo (김갑수) looks on.

Soo-mi and Su-yeon can only rely on each other due to their dysfunctional family

Soo-mi (right) and Soo-yeon (left) can only rely on each other due to their dysfunctional family

Loosely based on a Joseon-era folktale, A Tale of Two Sisters is a chilling, atmospheric, and engaging film from start to finish. This is chiefly due to auteur Kim Ji-woon (김지운) who continually displays an incredible talent for playing with genre conventions and is masterful in creating suspense and terror. He integrates and evolves visual motifs seamlessly such as his exquisite use of colour to reflect whether a protagonist is safe or potentially in peril, such as the cool blue safety of the duvet covers, the eerie unsettling green of the furniture, and the horrific blood red decor in the dining room. Kim Ji-woon combines this eye for colour with a Kubrickian sense of symmetry (a la The Shining) and slow, long tracking shots through shadowy corridors and rooms that turns a peaceful family home into a labyrinthian horror. The motifs of flowers that beautifully adorn the wallpaper throughout the house initially, later become a tangled and sinister web of vines that threaten to engulf those who stand before it. Combined, the homestead is not only a source of horror but also alive and evolving as the sisters descend into the mystery.

Director Kim Jee-woon's exquisite use of colour enhances the tension

Director Kim Ji-woon’s exquisite use of colour enhances the tension

Soo-mi and Soo-yeon must not only contend with the ever-changing architecture, but also their vindictive step-mother. Visiting an old cabin in the neighbouring woods, Soo-mi finds old pictures and reveals that Eun-joo was previously her mother’s nurse. Enraged and paranoid, the sisters create further tension in their relationship with their ‘new mother’ as motives are questioned and clues are found. Compounding the tension further is the fact that all the protagonists begin to hear and see the supernatural, so that suspicion and mistrust are commonplace. The performances by all three actresses are engaging and compelling as each struggles with themselves and their environment, and expertly convey the tense, terrifying situations in which they find themselves.

Flower motifs and colours serve to heighten the suspense

Flower motifs and colours serve to heighten the suspense

Verdict:

A Tale of Two Sisters is an incredibly detailed and psychological horror that ranks among the upper echelons of the genre. Writer/director Kim Ji-woon plants enough red herrings and twists amongst his superb use of mise-en-scene that, from start to finish, makes the film an entrancing and enthralling viewing experience. If there are any criticisms to be highlighted, it would be that certain scenes of horror could perhaps be more inventive in their presentation, but this is a minor quibble. A Tale of Two Sisters is a fascinating journey of familial tension, teenage angst, and the supernatural and comes highly recommended.

★★★★☆


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