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South Korea 2006

Drama, Romance

Kim Dae-seung

Yu Ji-tae
Kim Ji-su
Uhm Ji-won
Park Cheol-min
Choi Jong-won
Bang Eun-mi
Park Seung-tae
Lim Jong-yoon

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Traces of Love

Story: Young new-baked lawyer Hyun-woo (Yu Ji-tae) plans to marry his girlfriend Min-joo (Kim Ji-su) and move into a new apartment with her. They have already found a new flat and things are going up for them until one day a catastrophe that shocks the country, tears Min-joo away from him. A shopping mall collapses and thousands of people are burried under the rubble. Hyun-woo is a different man from that day on and works doggedly on the case revolving around the catastrophe. But before everyone responsible has been apprehended the case is closed and Hyun-woo is advised to go on vacation.
After Min-joo's father hands the lawyer a diary of his deceased girlfriend in which several places are listed that are noteworthy because of their scenery and their potential to go on a nice hiking trip, Hyun-woo in fact makes a little trip to these places. He hopes to find a cure for his mourning by wandering, but before that he first has to solve the mystery of the young woman Se-jin (Uhm Ji-won) who he runs into several times at certain places of his journey and who in some way may be linked to Min-joo.

Review: "Traces of Love" is a drama that thankfully puts its focus on some more mature aspects of love and loss than most other tearjerkers around. This shouldn't come as a surprise as Kim Dae-seung is responsible for this movie, a man who already proved with "Bungee Jumping of their Own" ("Blood Rain" is also among his works) that he has a knack for quiet love stories, in which love is transfered from one individual to another without betraying the original feelings. In "Traces of Love", which in contrast to "Bungee Jumping of their Own" features no supernatural elements in order to justify this transfer, this love relationship is at best only hinted at. Hyun-woo and Se-jin aren't connected by a bond of love, but by a deep grief, which they try to heal in the same manner.

Director Kim Dae-seung shows that he is pretty skilled in connecting his premise, for which it is essential to make Min-joo die, with a national tragedy and reviewing this incident by shedding some light on it in shape of a single individual's fate, also in order to capture the whole extent of the tragedy in an appropriate fashion. The depicted catastrophe in this movie actually took place in reality, you must know. On June, 29th 1995 the Sampoong shopping mall in Seoul suddenly collapsed. 500 people died and almost 1000 were hurt. The cause were constructional defects, supporting pillars that were removed, heavy air conditioning devices that caused cracks in ceilings and walls because of the vibration and an additional floor the buildings structure wasn't made to support. It is also said that the pillars had to carry the weight of four times what was authorized. Naturally, the catastrophe was to be seen before it happened, but corruption among the officials in charge lead to the shopping mall still being in use.

"Traces of Love" actually draws the events revolving around the shopping mall collapse in an adequate way, yet doesn't get lost in unnecessary details and numerous shots of crying relatives of the victims. Of course, the film shows these pictures, too, but in a reserved manner, so that we don't get the feeling of being presented with a simple manipulative drama, but one that wants to be sincere with the viewer. It's also amazing how many small details were implemented into the movie on a side note. For example, the air conditioning wasn't turned on the day of the catastrophe, because the cracks in the ceiling looked even more alarming than before and there is also hinted at a gas leak, which also was temporarily believed to have contributed to the collapse by the inquiry committee. However, these are details that are easy to miss if you don't know about the facts behind the incident. The juridical struggle with the ones responsible and the corruption scandal that was revealed during the investigation also are dealt with and we get to understand how much Hyun-woo is eaten away from the inside by the whole matter.

Nevertheless, after one third the movie takes us to nature with a more tranquil pacing and into the hurt souls of Hyun-woo and Se-jin. Kim Dae-seung's direction is at any time a pleasure to look at. The numerous outdoor shots and wanderings through nature will bathe you in a warm feeling and will make you want to go on a trip yourself in the near future. The seasons also have a symbolic meaning in this movie, naturally, and hint at the circle of life. However, main focus lies on autumn, which is why the pictures of sun beams falling through the colorful leafy canopies are especially mesmerizing.
Within this framework we are told the stories of Hyun-woo and his girlfriend as well as Hyun-woo and Se-jin. The different time levels are overlapping at times and so sometimes three of these characters are entering the screen one after another, although that's not actually possible, creating a feeling of nostalgia and sadness.

"Traces of Love" sheds some light on the process of pain and healing, sometimes in a quite spiritual way and occasionally it even overexerts this approach. Min-joo seems to be blessed with an incredible wisdom for her age, which is made use of every time the movie wants to drive home street wisdom or its message. It would have been nice if the message had been presented in a more modest manner. Moreover, the serene pacing might be just right for the drama to unfold, but the insertion of Se-jin's experience that destroyed her emotionally just unnecessarily disrupts the movie's flow. Furthermore, it would have been desireable for the characters to have more depth. The actors may be giving it their best, but you can't fight the feeling that you could have been involved in everything a bit more emotionally. Nervertheless, in the end this is still a nice drama that can evoke a warm feeling in your stomach, especially at the end. Even if "Traces of Love" can't really compete with Kim Dae-seung's former works.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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