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Original Title:

South Korea 2003

Drama, Romance

Lee Eon-hie

Lim Su-jeong
Kim Rae-won
Lee Mi-suk
Kim In-mun
Yun Chang

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Story: Min-ah (Lim Su-jeong) suffers from a terminal illness and has been in hospital since her early childhood. Her mother and at the same time best friend Mi-suk (Lee Mi-suk) hides the fact from Min-ah that she hasn't long to live anymore, and tries to make her daughter enjoy every day as if it were her last. However, Min-ah is a introverted girl, which is also because of her deformed hand, that makes her a "freak" among her schoolfellows. Thus, she isn't really eager to get a boyfriend. She prefers to dream of a fantasy world in which perfect love transcends time.
One day a young photographer, Yeong-jae (Kim Rae-won), moves into the flat under Min-ah. Yeong-jae instantly falls in love with Min-ah and lends a lighter from her, which from this time on he never gives back, so that he can see her as often as possible. Min-ah isn't really impressed by the infantile pick-up attempts of her neighbor and ignores him as good as she can. Nevertheless, Yeong-jae remains persistent and soon Min-ah has to admit to herself, that she starts to have feelings for him, too. Mi-suk encourages her daughter to go on a trip to Hawaii with the photographer. But Min-ha suddenly breaks down... Will she be able to undertake the journey to Hawaii with her new boyfriend or will she leave this world all too soon?

Review: "" is one of those numerous tearjerker dramas, which however got quite some praise from several critics. Not unjustly so, as we may find out, because the movie's style, its at times surprisingly joyful undertone and the different characters are all pretty interesting and engaging. However, strangely the film just couldn't really touch me. This is in no way a bad movie, but still the promised "greatness" of this work almost completely eludes me. For some reason "" couldn't move me, although the film's message to seize the day and to live life to the fullest, is quite appealing and even conveyed in an impressively uncheesy manner.

It's also this message the title of the film refers to. That is because "-ing" is the particle that is added to verbs in english in the present progressive tense, which is the continual tense of the present. Mi-suk wants her daughter to live her short life as happy as possible, savouring every moment to the fullest. She even encourages her daughter to finally get a boyfriend. Still, we have to wonder why Mi-suk doesn't tell her daughter about her fate. Isn't it her right to get to know the truth, for her to adjust the way she lives the rest of her short life?
Eventually, Min-ah starts a romantic relationship with the young man Yeong-jae, even if Min-ah only slowly opens up to him. Yeong-jae wins over Min-an's heart with his somewhat silly behavior, which makes "" also a lot more amusing and funny than many other dramas.

The story of "" is simple, but unquestionably has a lot of heart. Especially the good amount of humor and the way first-time director Lee Eon-hie approaches his work more light-hearted than unsual, make this film very easy to access and entertaining. Nonetheless, there is always the certainty of Min-ah's approaching death casting a shadow above everything else. Until the last third of the movie humor and drama balance each other. Then it all goes the way that's already written from the start. It's really not that we wouldn't be expecting what's coming, and actually the drama doesn't feel forced at all, but still you have to criticize that we have seen it all before, already. Min-ah breaks down several times, until she finally ends up in a hospital again. And the tearjerker-fest kicks in just as expected.

When it comes to it, however, "" strangely can't really touch you, which is the more odd as even movies worse than this one managed to do that. Why is that? Well, I have a few theories: 1. Maybe I just expected too much after all those great reviews out there. 2. It is possible that it was just one of these days when you can't really appreciate a movie like this; or 3. The certainness of the movie's outcome prevented me from weaving an emotional bond to the characters - like a kind of self-protection, so that I don't have to suffer with the characters.
The latter one of those theories seems to be the most reasonable. Maybe the film makers could have avoided this problem, if the relationship between the two main characters weren't just at its flourishing beginning, when Min-ah already ends up in a hospital. The chemistry between the two lovers is actually quite right and evident, but for my taste it still lacked something for the viewer to feel emotionally bound to.

Nevertheless, there has to go out some praise to the actors. Kim Rae-Won ("My little Bride") provides a neat performance, but the true star is of course Lim Su-jeong ("A Tale of Two Sisters", "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK"). She imbues her character with a certain amount of depth, and despite her introverted appearance also manages to let some of it shine through. However, most of the time she is outplayed by Lee Mi-suk, who depicts Min-ah's mother. She is trying hard to always keep her joyful nature apparent, but we also see that under the surface a mentally tormented character is hiding, who is only an inch from breaking down. She convincingly displays how difficult it must be to know that you are about to lose your only child and have to get along with it. But the most important thing to her is, that her daugher spends some nice days before leaving this world.
The most beautiful thing about "" is the great relationship between mother and daughter, which is so absolutely uncommen for Korean standards. Mi-suk isn't only Min-ah's mother, but also her best friend, which is the reason why Min-ah is calling her by her first name. A big no-go in Korea! This friendship-like relationship can also be quite amusing, e.g. when Mi-suk once in a while tells her daughter the most absurd lies with an incredibly serious face, having one hell of a fun-time teasing Min-ah.

The beautiful pictures and the good actors leave no doubt, that we have a product of high quality, here. Still, it somehow couldn't hit all the right notes for me, let alone move me to tears. However, if it's a good drama you are looking for, then you'll find some nice scenes, soaked with a certain kind of magic, in this one. For instance, when Min-ah is reading the diary of her mother.
Nonetheless, in the end "" just isn't anything new, even if the implemented humor deserves some extra credit. Maybe it's just that I had greater expectations...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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