Udine 2018 Review: BE WITH YOU, Pleasant Fantasy Drama Stays the Course
An engaging new vehicle for stars Son Ye-jin and So Ji-sub, directed by Lee Hang-joon.
The Korean fantasy romance, a genre that has spawned modern classics such as Il Mare and Ditto, has fallen on hard times in recent years but makes a strong case for a return to form with Be With You, an engaging new vehicle for stars Son Ye-jin and So Ji-sub.
Woo-jin and Soo-a are a happily married couple in the countryside who live with their young son Ji-ho, until one day when Soo-a dies unexpectedly. Woo-jin does his best to live on, taking care of Ji-ho. A year to the day following Soo-a's death, she returns to them, but without any memories of who she was.
Based on a Japanese book by Takuji Ichikawa published in 2003 that has already served as the basis for a Japanese film and TV show, Be With You lands in Korea as a tried-and-tested narrative and as such the film marks a successful debut outing for director Lee Hang-joon. Shuffling through familiar codes at a comfortable pace and designing a handsome mise-en-scene that serves to spotlight the leads rather than draw too much attention to itself, Lee's presence at the helm is a confident one.
Son Ye-jin returns to the genre in which she made her name in the first place in films such as A Moment to Remember after spending the last few years expanding her repertoire and cementing her status as a serious and versatile actress. Beyond her natural grace and expressiveness, Son brings a heightened sense of control to Soo-a as she crafts a performance that is hard to draw your eyes away from.
Following last year's period action blockbuster The Battleship Island, So Ji-sub makes a comeback as a hardy yet sensitive lead as Woo-jin. With his strong and chiseled physique, So always has to lose something for his character to work as a romantic lead. In Always it was his voice, here, he loses his wife and confidence. Though admittedly no match for Son's talent, he acquits himself well as he layers his part with quiet charm, inner strength and a considerable dose of vulnerability.
As with other fantasy dramas, Be With You presents its supernatural premise early and avoids going into the details, hoping that the viewer will settle in and accept the film's world for what it is. Compared to other films like it, Lee's work offers a lot of exposition in its final stretch, while still remaining firmly rooted in fantasy. This turns out to be a double-edged sword, as the effort to give more weight to the premie is admirable but its execution is convoluted as it ropes together several prosaic Korean twists.
Be With You may be a touch too manufactured to take a place right alongside the modern romantic classics of Korean cinema, but it rises above the majority of heart-tuggers the industry has put forward for much of the past decade. Along with Little Forest, Korean film melodrama seems to be making a quiet comeback in early 2018.