I watched Indian Summer, a 2001 movie, in late-2004. Lee Mi-yeon plays Lee Shin-young, a woman on trial for murdering her husband. Park Shin-yang is Seo Jun-ha, the lawyer assigned by the state to defend her. Right from the onset he faces an uphill battle. Resolutely uncooperative, his client is determined to pay for the deed with her life.
Several of my friends and I were really taken with the movie and we discussed it at length. We loved its atmosphere (so evocative of the song Indian Summer), and we especially loved the Jun-ha character for his devotion to Shin-young’s case and to Shin-young herself.
Here are some of my thoughts after I had finished the movie. They relate specifically to the final decision that Shin-young made, and they attempt to explain the significance of the movie’s title. Thus, be warned that these thoughts contain MAJOR ENDING SPOILERS.
[Note: Pics are in random order.]
Why didn’t Shin-young take the passport and money that Jun-ha had given her, and run to a faraway place where she could be alive? Why did she choose the path that would lead her back to the gallows? After much mulling, I see possibly two reasons.
BECAUSE OF HER HUSBAND
On the night of her husband’s death, she ran out of the house and went to the bus station. Her only thought at that time was that she was finally free and she could leave behind the shackles that had bound her for six years. But when the ticketing officer at the station asked her where she wanted to go, she was stunned. She had nowhere to go.
I think more than the physical and verbal abuse that he heaped on her, the husband did one of the worst things that a person could do: He took away Shin-young’s sense of rootedness. He made their home such a living hell for her. She had a house, a roof over her head, but she had no home. And home was something infinitely precious to Shin-young. Her home with her parents was just a single room, but it was a warm, loving and safe haven for her. Each day after school, the thought of going home filled her with joy.
At the bus station, she realized with a devastating thud that she had no home to go back to. And that thought filled her with such despair she wanted to die. Thus, throughout her first trial (which we did not see), she remained silent. She made zero effort to defend herself. In the end she got what she wanted: the death penalty.
What could she do with the passport and money? Where could she run to? To the ends of the earth? She had no home. Her husband had completely destroyed whatever sense of home she previously had. The price that she had paid (masterminding his suicide) was not enough to give her the home she longed for. He would continue to haunt her whether she was awake or asleep.
BECAUSE OF JUN-HA
More than anything else, she wanted to die. She didn’t want to live anymore. But he came into her life. And he was determined that she should live. So without any help or insight from her, he went about resolutely to secure her acquittal. He found out about the door-knobs and the abuse that led to her miscarriage. He opened the door so that she could walk out of prison.
She noticed his sneakers. He was delighted that she noticed and almost bashfully he told her the story behind the sneakers. His father bought them for him when he became a lawyer because there were many people that he would need to help. As a lawyer, he would be doing much running in his pursuit of truth and justice.
But when he was with her, she saw him do a different kind of running. As his car sped through the streets with the police hot in pursuit, she realized that this would be their life for the rest of their days. They would always be running. They would be fugitives from the law. It was not what his father had in mind when he bought Jun-ha the sneakers.
When he brought her back to his apartment, she noticed the great hurry he was in to get to work. He had already missed a day of work being with her and now he had a meeting to go to. He changed his clothes with such speed. He was a lawyer. He had a job, a mission. He had a life outside of her. For her sake he would have to give all that up. And she knew he would give it all up for her. He loved her.
It’s interesting that when he brought her back to his apartment, we do not see any scenes of her sitting down, lying down, or making herself at home. Yes, she tidied his apartment and she did his laundry because he noticed everything was clean and his clothes were hanging out to dry when he came back. But there wasn’t a physical presence of her there. I believe she never planned to stay despite his urging. And the reason was because she had her sights set on death.
Death would set her free so that she could find the home that she could not find on earth. But on her way to heaven, she made a stop to collect one precious memory to take with her. Jun-ha was that memory. It was more than she had hoped for. It was more than enough for her.
Which of the two men was the more compelling reason for her to reject the freedom and new life that the passport and money offered? Did she choose to go back to the gallows because of the hold her husband had on her even in death? Or because she loved Jun-ha and did not want him to give up everything for her? I wish I could say it was because of Jun-ha… but no, I believe it was because of her husband.
I think her outlook was so fatalistic she saw her meeting with Jun-ha as just a transient and fleeting stop on her way to her final destination. In the midst of that prolonged cold spell of her life, he came like an Indian summer, bringing her a warmth she never expected. At their last meeting, just before he hugged her, she was crying about wanting to live. He had given her a glimmer of hope and she wanted to grasp at it, but in the end it was not enough to overcome everything that had already happened to her.