Eun-hwan teaches Jae-kyung the value of a relationship

A Millionaire’s First Love (백만장자의 첫사랑) – ★★☆☆☆

A Millionaire's First Love (백만장자의 첫사랑)

A Millionaire’s First Love (백만장자의 첫사랑)

The life of spoiled rich brats undergoing a momentous personality shift is seemingly inherent to portrayals of American teenagers; their affluence, power and arrogance a by-product of rich-yet-absentee parents. As convention dictates, the teen learns and embraces the emotional connections with others, unselfishly wielding their wealth for the betterment of others.

As Korea has so rapidly grown and developed, such narrative traits have not only permeated but are often fundamental in representing the social elite and their intense desire for ownership of luxury goods. A Millionaire’s First Love (백만장자의 첫사랑), while initially conforming to such generic features, veers away into a touching tale of romance which is quite endearing and will be beloved by teenagers, despite the absence of character and narrative development.

On his 18th birthday, rich, rebellious and arrogant Kang Jae-kyung (Hyeon-bin (현빈) is set to inherit his late grandfather’s vast empire making him unbelievably wealthy. Yet his lifestyle of driving sports cars, gang fights and clubs have led to a clause in the transfer of assets; Jae-kyung must attend, and graduate, a high school deep in the countryside. With little alternative, Jae-kyung visits the school and meets new classmates, including studious Choi Eun-whan (Lee Yeon-hee (이연희). As Jae-kyung attempts to cause as much disruption as possible, his growing relationship with Eun-whan teaches him the merits of things money cannot buy.

Jae-kyung's rich and wild lifestyle is out of control

Jae-kyung’s rich and wild lifestyle is out of control

A Millionaire’s First Love begins in a rather generic fashion, with director Kim Tae-gyoon (김태균) portraying the affluent and rebellious lifestyle of Jae-kyung with sports cars, clubs and women. Such scenes are cutely-comical however it is nigh-on impossible to accept actor Won-bin, who was 24 at the time, as an 18 year old socialite. The actor, as well as the co-stars, are physically and stylishly much more mature than the ages they are attempting to portray, which cannot help but detract from the enjoyment of the film. When the actors appear in school uniform it is laughable and unconvincing, although such scenes are generally kept to a minimum. Unfortunately as this the premise of the film it ultimately conveys a sense of silliness to the proceedings.

Where A Millionaire’s First Love wonderfully succeeds is when the premise is jettisoned in favour of the romance between Jae-kyung and Eun-hwan. Korean cinema’s tendancy to flit between genres at whim is in full effect in A Millionaire’s First Love and the film benefits enormously because of it. Again, what draws the couple together initially is rather trite and silly yet once this is overcome the romance is deeply compelling and poignant. Due to health problems Eun-hwa moves into Jae-kyung’s country home, within which screenwriter Kim Eun-sook (김은숙) crafts some incredibly romantic scenes as the two share moments both funny – painting nails – and deeply moving – an early birthday – to convincing effect. Due to their co-habitation their real ages become less of a hinderance and much more fitting to the situation, as the depth of the love and sentiment conveyed implies a mature relationship and as such adds realism.

Eun-hwan teaches Jae-kyung the value of a relationship

Eun-hwan teaches Jae-kyung the value of a relationship

A Millionaire’s First Love is very much Jae-kyung’s story, and Won-bin performs the role ably. He has difficulty conveying the initial rebellious nature of the character, as even when swearing or fighting he is comical and clearly a man attempting to portray a boy. However, Won-bin excels during romantic and emotional sequences and never fails to convince that his love is genuine.

Despite her more supportive role, Lee Yeon-hee is excellent as Eun-hwa and steals the spot-light from her co-star with her acting ability. She is the only actor in the film that is convincing as a high school student with her appearance and diligent nature, and is by far the most compelling protagonist. When Eun-hwa begins to experience health problems, Lee Yeon-hee appears genuinely in pain and is convincing in the severity of her illness. As with her co-star, Lee Yeon-hee provides her best performances during emotional scenes and conveys incredible sincerity that is both poignant and moving.

The rest of the cast fair far less well and serve to be little more than irritations. While their roles are not developed more than several lines of dialogue between them, what is performed is hackneyed and over-acted particularly by the fellow students.

The couple bond and cherish every moment

The couple bond and cherish every moment

Verdict:

Despite opening with a rather contrived premise, A Millionaire’s First Love excels upon moving beyond teenage high school concerns and embracing the romance between the central couple. While the ages of the actors are an incredible distraction, such problems dissipate through the emotionally charged and moving scenes that occur as their love develops, and as such the film will undoubtedly please teenage audiences and romance fans to whom A Millionaire’s First Love is aimed.

★★☆☆☆

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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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