My Love (aka Lovers, 2007) is three love stories, or three and the half, if you consider that the leads are seven. Each story in the movie is separate from the rest, but all will converge on a day when Korea experiences a rare solar eclipse.
When he is not at work, copywriter Jung-suk (Ryu Seung-yong) pines for his dead wife and comes home drunk most days. His only son survives on noodles and spends all his time at home playing games.
When he’s at work, Jung-suk shares a close and open relationship with Su-jung (Lim Jung-eun) that defies a neat definition. They are more than colleagues, perhaps even more than friends, but they aren’t lovers. When they sit, their shoulders touch; they share food and meaningful glances. She tells him how she feels; he explains where he stands. Everyone in the office is aware that they are an almost-couple.
Realizing that she may have to wait forever for Jung-suk to open his grief-stricken heart to her unless she takes matters into her own hands, Su-jung turns up at his apartment one day and is appalled (and vindicated) to see its befallen state. Dishes overflow the sink, clothes lie helter-skelter, Jung-suk’s son is all alone. That’s precisely why she, Su-jung, has come prepared to cook him and his dad a warm meal! Except… she hasn’t the faintest idea how to clean that fish she bought, now staring at her with accusing eyes from the chopping board. “Just noodles will do,” the boy says.
After dinner (and Jung-suk still isn’t back), she wanders into his bedroom. Pictures from a happier past line the walls. The wife heavily pregnant, their faces flushed with joy. Removing one of the pictures, Su-jung says to the woman she has never met, “Please let him go. Let your husband go, so that he can live again.”
Behind her a voice, familiar and yet unfamiliar, its ferocity startling and chilling her to the bone, suddenly yells: “What in the world are you doing? Who gave you the right to come here?” And then he grabs the frame from her, but it slips from her hand, from his hand, and falls to the ground, in pieces.
The six years that Jin-man (Uhm Tae-woong) has been abroad, he has never stopped thinking of the girlfriend he left behind in Seoul.
So what if they hadn’t been in touch all those years? They made a promise when he left, and now he’s back to keep that promise. But to do that, he needs her to call him. The only problem is… his old phone number is now Su-jung’s.
“Why must I return this number to you? It’s been my number the last five years!” she exclaims, annoyed with this stranger who has called her out of the blue with a most unreasonable request. “Because we promised to meet on the day of the eclipse, and this is the only number that she knows to reach me!”
So they meet, Jin-man and Su-jung, because she isn’t a meanie who’s going to deny a man’s only opportunity to see the girl he essentially abandoned six years ago. Because she understands what it means to want to reach out desperately to a beloved. Over a surprisingly comfortable first meeting, she learns that this man with the easy smiles is a Free Hugs activist, that he sleeps under the stars, and that all he wants is to keep a promise, not necessarily to rekindle a first love.
They first met on the subway. Like two balls rolling down a street from opposite ends, one could not be sure, seeing the balls hitting one bump after another, if the two would collide but they did. On one ride, sitting across each other, she counted the number of times he looked at her (at least twenty times), thinking she wasn’t aware. She breathed a sigh of relief when he (Gam Woo-sung) finally leaned forward and introduced himself shyly. “Hi, I’m Se-jin.”
And so began their love. They met every day, but were they officially dating? He wasn’t sure, because unlike the Su-jung in our first story, Joo-won (Choi Kang-hee) did not declare her feelings. She seemed to live in a world of dreams and fancies, where anything worth doing was decided on a whim, where rules didn’t count, where danger was just another word beginning with d.
So she led him, this man who has always lived within prescribed boundaries, on wild adventures in ordinary places. Setting off sparklers in a subway tunnel. Imagining their fellow commuters on the train as strange characters in a book. Asking him to lie on top of the luggage rack. Making him piggyback her till his pants fell to his knees. Soon his inhibitions dropped as well, one after another, for it was impossible to remain unaffected by her free spirit and her giggles.
But if he was honest, she sometimes vexed him. Like not answering his calls. Or coming late for his birthday, leaving in the middle of it, and forgetting a present for him. Why couldn’t she be more normal?
When she learns that Ji-woo (Jung Il-woo) has returned to the university that he left for a year, So-hyun (Lee Yeon-hee) immediately tries to ensure she will bump into him.
But will he remember her? She was just his junior when he quit school, to nurse a broken heart after his girlfriend broke up with him. She was just a girl with glasses and a crush on him. He, quiet and unassuming, had never really noticed her despite the two of them occasionally hanging out in a large group of mutual friends.
Shortly after he returns, they are once again with friends at a restaurant when So-hyun passes out after too much soju. (“Too much” meaning one glass of the potent liquid; our girl can’t hold her drink.) Being the gentleman that he is, Ji-woo brings her back to his apartment. “Because no one knew where you lived,” he explains to her later. She, on her part, is aghast to see herself sans wig (thinking long hair would be more attractive to him); how embarrassing that he should see her in that state and all drunk, too!
“I would like to ask you for a small favour,” she says hesitantly. “Would you teach me how to drink so that I can finish a bottle of soju without becoming drunk and passing out?”
She doesn’t know, but she intrigues him. This girl who lists the smell of her mother’s fart as one of her favorite things. Who stares at him like one entranced, and then blushes when he looks at her. This girl who is prettier than she realizes.
I know my friends (and Twitter followers) think I bought this movie for Jung Il-woo. But I (without the receipt to prove it) swear I bought this long ago for Uhm Tae-woong and Gam Woo-sung!
After finishing (and absolutely loving) The Return of Iljimae (ROI) recently, I was pleased (that being the understatement of the month) to discover I actually own an earlier work of Jung Il-woo. Never mind that more than fifty other unwatched movies awaited, off came the shrinkwrap for My Love.
If you are a Jung Il-woo fan (newly minted or not), definitely watch this because you’ll love how gentle and sweet he is here. But be warned that his acting, though assured, is overshadowed by Lee Yeon-hee, playing the most winsome role that I’ve seen of her. Although they don’t have a lot of screen time, being one of four vignette-like stories in the movie, their chemistry is natural and palpable, albeit in a low-key way. I know I’m overusing the word “sweet” here, but that’s the first thing that springs to mind when I think of him, her, and the two together! Theirs is really a sweet (but not cloying) love story.
But the story that I ended up loving the most is not that of our youngest couple. No, the one that had me bawling, the one that I couldn’t get out of my system long after the end credits rolled, is of our subway couple. There’s a reason why, when I was describing their story earlier, I used the past tense.
This is a movie that some may find slow-moving, with not very much happening, but the pace suited me just fine. Missing are the usual clichés (the one who gets drunk pukes on the one who does the rescuing, but not here); farewells and reunions are muted. Directed by Lee Han, the four stories do not feel disparate but blend so seamlessly you expect any moment to learn that the respective relationships (or pairings) are actually part of a larger whole. Music is lovely and, more importantly, the acting is excellent.
If there’s one lesson that I can take away from My Love, it is that life is too short to spend it mired in expectations and misunderstandings. Why conform when I can break free of the shackles? Why hold back when a hug is free and painless? Why judge when I don’t have the whole picture? Why jump to conclusions when I can be hopeful and forgiving instead? I can choose to be happy… and loved. And to love, of course.