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Original Title:
Palwolui Christmas

South Korea 1998

Drama, Romance

Hur Jin-ho

Han Seok-gyu
Shim Eun-ha
Shin Gu
Oh Ji-Hye

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Christmas in August

Story: Jung-won (Han Suk-kyu) works in a photo shop and lives together with his father and sister. Although he has been told, that he hasn't much time left to live, he enjoys life to the fullest, albeit in a quite and subtle way. About his fatal illness only his father and sister are informed, and Jung-won continues keeping it a secret from his friends.
When Jung-won meets an old flame who somehow knows about his condition, he realizes that they have nothing in common anymore. However, he suddenly meets the car parking officer Darim (Shim Eun-ha), who starts showing up at his photo shop regularly, because she wants her photos of traffic offenders be developed there. Slowly, a relationship begins to form between the two, but Jung-won knows, that he hasn't the time left to fully enjoy this new relationship. So he starts building an emotional wall between him and Darim...

Review: "Christmas in August" has no difficulties to tell the meanwhile worn-out story of a "sick person who hasn't long to live anymore, but suddenly finds his true love" with impressive credibility, and without cheap sappiness. As a matter of fact, there's never been told anything about love in the movie, but it's nonetheless always present.

Luckily, you won't find any over-used melodramatic scenes. Jung-won's story is slowly build up and the movie's main focus is on its characters and their development. The portrayel of Jung-won's life-enjoying character, who seems to be quite well for someone who knows that he hasn't much time left, seems to be shallow at first. But soon we find out in an impressive way, that his frequent laughter and his happiness is nothing more than a defense reaction. He might have accepted death, but that doesn't take away the fear of dying. That's the reason why he doesn't tell his friends about his incurable disease, and the viewer only slowly starts to learn about what's under the surface of the always-smiling fotoshop owner.

At any moment, Jung-won is aware of his fate, so he even writes down for his father how to handle the video recorder or the photo printer. Nonetheless, he keeps on living and trys to make the best of his situation. It's interesting that he has no big plans, but finds the beauty of life in the little things of everyday life.

A movie like "Christmas in August works because of its protagonists and their credibility. Especially, since it is a quite movie, whose most important scenes are those without dialogue, there is a strong need of good and experienced actors. Director Hur Jin-ho surely found them in Han Suk-kyu as Jung-won and Shim Eun-ha as Darim. The inner disunity, that is caused by the certainness of his fate is excellently expressed by Han Suk-kyu with all its facets.
However, Darim's role is also essential for the movie, as she is a part of the core of the movie, and because she is responsible for bringing the drama into flow.

Although there isn't happening anything spectacular, the movie never gets boring. That's mostly because of the intensity of the emotions and the way Jung-won decided to live on. We are never told what disease he is suffering from, but it's also in no way important. Because of this, the movie has a great credibility, that most other works lack of, and at the same time unnecessary drama is avoided.

Most of all, it's the details, that make this drama stand out, e.g. the suburb the story is taking place in, the costumers of the photo shop and their oftentimes stange requests etc.
Especially because of the missing overly sentimental and dramatic scenes, the movie creates an intensity with the power of the not-told, that will emotionally touch you.
Nevertheless, Hur Jin-Ho's work is like shouting out "Yes" to living. Jung-won finds peace with himself and the world, while enjoying everyday things, that other ones just take for granted.

"Christmas in August" is a impressively serious, but also invigorating movie about life, death and love. It manages to do the impossible, to be moving without ever being cheap. A movie no one should miss.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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