He was 98. She was 89. They were married for 76 years, had 12 children, six of whom died during their childhood. That is the story of Jo Byeong-man and Kang Gye Yeol, as told in director Jin Mo-young's My Love, Don't Cross That River, South Korea's all-time highest grossing independent film and documentary feature at the local box office.
Over the years, out of South Korea have come many exceptional films that focus on old people, such as The Way Home, Too Young To Die, Old Partner, and Late Blossom. These films have been embraced by the Korean people, making many of them not just critical hits but also commercial successes. My Love, Don't Cross That River is the latest addition to that list; and its success should come as no surprise because it is a documentary that is gentle, elegant and genuinely moving.
The film tells the story of the elderly couple, who lived simple and happy lives together with their dogs. Only on special occasions, their children would visit them. Even though they mostly lived in isolation in Korea's picturesque country side (which is gloriously captured on film in this documentary), they were not lonely because they had each other. The early scenes in the film where the couple joked around with each other and behaved like young children are amusing. Without ever saying the words "I love you" on camera, there is not a single doubt that they loved each other more than anything in the world. So when one of them fell ill, the other half suffered greatly. From that point, the mood of the film changes from heart-warming to heart-wrenching, and laughs turn into tears for the audience as they witness the decline in the old person's health.
Viewers do not get to see the couple's children a lot, but based on the scenes in which they appear, one gets the sense that they did not get on very well with each other and most of them were not very loving towards their parents. That is very sad as Jo and Kang clearly cared for each of them dearly and had gone through a lot of hardship to raise them all.
My Love, Don't Cross That River is a wonderful documentary that tells a story of underlying love. It is really simple but at the same time, incredibly touching. I recommend it for mature audiences, as only they will truly appreciate the film's beautiful portrayal of love, family and death.
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