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Over the Border - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Gukgyeongui namjjok

South Korea 2006

Romance, Drama

Ahn Pan-suk

Cha Seung-won
Jo Yi-jin
Shim Hye-jin
Lee Ah-Hyeon
Song Jae-ho
Yu Hae-jin

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Over the Border

aka South of the Border

Story: Kim Sun-ho (Cha Seung-won) and his family live in North Korea and he works for the State Symphony Ochestra. Between him and the a lot more straight-forward Yeon-hwa (Jo Yi-jin) a romantic relationship unfolds. But one day Sun-ho is told that he and his family have to leave the country. The secret service has uncovered that Sun-ho's father has been writing letters to the grandfather of the family in South Korea. Thanks to the help of the grandfather they manage to flee to the South, but Yeon-hwa wants to follow them some time later. However, the wealthy grandfather dies before they actually arrive in the South and now the family of Sun-ho has to start from scratch. It's also not that easy anymore to get Yeon-hwa over the border. Eventually, Sun-ho lends some money and makes contact with a man who is supposed to help him but he gets involved with a con man and his money is gone. After that he finds work at a restaurant. The owner, Kyung-ju (Shim Hye-jin), and he become friends and after a few years he gets the news that Yeon-hwa is said to have married up in the North. Thus, Kyung-ju and he marry as well, but one day Yeon-hwa contacts him. She has managed to get over the border...

Review: "Over the Border" is a romantic drama, in which at first glance Korea's divide seems to be in the center of events. This arouses some interest since we are normally used to see politically motivated thrillers or patriotic dramas that resolve around the seperation of families and thus often drift into the oversentimental. In fact, the subject is interwoven with a love story in a very subtle manner and that's also making up the movie's strength. At the same time this strangely enough also poses a problem, because in the end the premise is simply centering around a love couple after all that believes the other part to have given up on the relationship, therefore trying to continue with one's own life. At the bottom line this makes "Over the Border" just some genre treat.

Over the Border - Film Screenshot 11

It's also questionable why the screenplay had to turn out this minimalistic. The story synopsis actually includes everything that happens in the movie and yet you can't blame me for having included any spoilers since the story is already predictable on its own. Despite several clichés the story nonetheless remains free from unnecessary corniness since it strongly works with the characters which in turn express their feelings in a subtle manner. And should it come to a burst of tears nonetheless, then this by no means feels forced and fortunately refrains from creating the unpleasant feeling that makes you want to roll your eyes about such scenes. Therefore, "Over the Border" might even arouse the interest of those who aren't into kitsch-loaden romantic flicks.

Over the Border - Film Screenshot 12

Unfortunately, the movie does barely deliver anything new so that it will mainly attract fans of the genre after all. And this even though the premise of a country divided and two love birds seperated could have presented room for much more. At least there is some small, hidden commentary about North and South Korea by the director. Accordingly, there are some interesting remarks of the two main characters about the two countries, that stand out with sophistication since they don't want to deliver a political statement, but simply put their observation into words. Eventually, the South still has the best of it, but the question needs to be raised if this isn't just the natural thing. Nonetheless, the lives of the two protagonists in the North don't seem so dull and miserable since they are fortunate to be among those few lucky ones that are only living in poverty and not in extreme poverty.

The introductory scenes in the North are at first a bit irritating. The North doesn't really look that different from the South, at least Pyongyang, and you get the impression to be thrown back into the seventies or eighties. But the movie actually takes place in the present. Additionally, director Ahn Pan-suk has also implemented some smart ideas in a few places, e.g. there is a parallel drawn between religious speeches and communist propaganda rhetoric which will make you smirk. In other places the movie isn't just built up of tears and sorrow either but instead loosens things up with a bit of humor as well. Despite all that it remains questionable if the North-South subject matter is enough to give the familiar story that special something.

Over the Border - Film Screenshot 13

The answer to that can be found towards the end of the film. "Over the Border" is simply a typical genre entry that tries to create more sentimentalism by using flashbacks and collages and for most part is bitter and sad, solely for the purpose of causing some tear-shedding. However, what the movie deserves some kudos for is that it doesn't attempt this in an inappropriately direct manner, also thanks to Cha Seung-won's ("Eye for an Eye", "Murder, Take One") acting. Especially towards the end, when it becomes obvious that there is no easy solution, the drama almost gains some sort of depth and scores with the fact that the emotions are mainly located on a subtle level. Is that enough to win over more than just your regular genre enthusiast? Not really, but this doesn't make "Over the Border" a bad movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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