“When the sun shines on the sea, I think of you.
When the dim moonlight is on the spring, I think of you.”
A person’s tale can be recounted in many ways. From first person’s pov, reciting one’s own history; from third person’s pov, narrating one’s chronicle; Or the mix of the two — a third person reliving one’s memory based on materials left behind by that person. The Classic rolls its story on the last method. As the title entails, it is about classic love stories of two generations with parallels and twists; despite living in different era and regime, some essence of life and love remains the same.
A girl is in the middle of dusting and re-stacking books into the storage room when she finds a boxful memories of her mother’s first love. Mom would weep every time she (re)reads the content — dad died when she was little and mom refuses to remarry — she thus decides to peek into it.
She starts with a letter addressed to Sung Joo-hee from Yoon Tae-soo curiously signed by Oh Joon-ha. The dictions are somewhat poetic yet cheesy she decides to view it as a classic. Then she digs into a worn diary with an old picture of a boy sitting by the windowsill. As she reads the content, the camera ever so slowly zooms into it and transports viewers to the past with it.
The boy is Oh Joon-ha (Jo Seung-woo). Heard that he writes for others, a lanky and antic fellow Tae-soo (Lee Ki-woo) asks him to write to his fiancée in his name. Joon-ha bores through the picture shown by Tae-soo as he flashes back to the time in the countryside when and where he first met the said girl. She is Joo-hee (Son Ye-jin), a congressman’s daughter. He gets to know her over a beetle and is so transfixed that he agrees to take her to a haunted house across the river even though he can’t row a boat. Many mishaps occur during the secret getaway, she ends up gifting him her necklace in exchange for his catching her a firefly.
The letter gets positive response and Tae-soo inadvertently becomes the middleman in reuniting two lovestruck souls. However, things of course don’t go easy on them. First of all, they are from different social class. Then there’s Tae-soo who is so kind to the degree of foolishness. Basically, they are seeing each other behind Tae-soo’s back. I feel bad for him but I root for Joon-ha and Joo-hee — see? Even their names match — to able to dance through the rain and make it against all odds…
[Stealing glances between folk dance moves, sooo cute! How can you not love these two?
Compare those with present-day version below]
Back in the present, Ji-hae (Joo-hee’s daughter, also played by Son Ye-jin) finds herself in the same situation her mother was once in. She helps her pal Soo-gyung and her crush Sang-min hit it off by composing emails on her friend’s behalf despite realizing that she too is attracted to him. She would tag along, even to their dates because then she could steal surreptitious glances at him. Which is sickening…ly familiar, isn’t it?
Ji-hae soon realizes she should stop mooning over him because Sang-min (Jo In-sung) seems to like Soo-gyung so much. But not before a certain gleeful dash in the rain under a special umbrella, Me to you, you to me as incidental music.
The thing is, Tae-soo is naïve, earnest, and actually likeable while Soo-gyung is selfish, manipulative, and pretty bitchy.
When Joon-ha comes clean, Tae-soo bigheartedly yields and even suggests him to continue writing to Joo-hee under his name. This by-line eventually got exposed and Tae-soo receives the severest rebuke. When he attempts suicide (either because gotten beaten up regularly deeply traumatizes him or he wants to give Joon-ha and Joo-hee a way out), Joon-ha gives up on Joo-hee and joins military forces and gets deployed to a certain war.
Cut to the present and we see Soo-gyung lying on hospital bed post-suicide attempt. Oh, crap! It’s one of many many parallels this movie has in store, by the way.
Fate has been toying with our couples so much, how will their stories end?
The moment the film opens with pigeons and flowy curtain, it’s obvious that the director aims for the pretty. Even though I got so engrossed in the plot progression later on that I focused less on cinematography, the prettiness is still apparent. Be it those shots with beautiful landscape on the background or those magical yet cliché romantic moments elicited by the rain, they left quite an impression. The story is presented and filmed in such a nostalgic way that it sweeps you into its world as if it’s your own tale they’re telling.
Although there are two stories covered in the movie, they aren’t of balanced proportion. The focus is more on the past, shifts back to the present for several minutes, then moves back to the past story. This way, it doesn’t feel as if we’re flashing-back; it’s more as if we’re flashing-forward to the future and see how much parallel and crisscross occurs.
It’s not bad per se, though I find it harder to join the dots of the present because they pop out a bit too randomly and the duration gap in-between scenes is quite long. That said, I do feel we’re missing the crucial timeframe in the past. I have no idea what period they’re in and how much time has lapsed in-between encounters because they seem to have lots of time jumps but are never defined.
As for the endings (plural because there are two stories here), each comes with a twist, although if you’re a sharp watcher, hints are plotted right from the beginning. The habit, the two-line love letter… For me who need time to warm up to faces and names, they aren’t as easy to pick up — or retain. I’d be flooded with hunches, nonetheless.
[Ending spoilers] None ends tragically — well, sort of — which is quite a relief. But! For 100, no, 120 minutes I was led to believe — or assume — who the parents were… (they’ve gone through so much I feel kinda cheated with how it turns out; the same goes for the other end’s brow frowning fallout) though if it weren’t for that the other closure wouldn’t have been that eventful. Quid pro quo. After all, the point is that children right what parents can’t achieve.
The Classic is a two-hour bittersweet to feel-good romance melodrama filled with youthful innocence with slow pacing. Thankfully, a good dose of comedic moments is knotted into the scenes every now and then to relieve the otherwise somber mood. There aren’t enough of ‘em for comedy to be listed in the genre, but like its many silly or faux pas moments, they are able to stir warm fuzzy feelings and make you grin from ear to ear like a loon.
Acting wise, Jo Seung-woo is the high point of the movie — he’s good. Another solid performance is shown by Lee Ki-woo. Son Ye-jin played typical meek female lead, though portrayed tenderly. Mother-daughter characterization is so similar and personified almost identically it’s hard to differentiate the two judging from Son’s acting alone. Jo In-sung left a lot to be desired as Sang-min; he wins me over during that umbrella rain scene though.
However, the cast was so young then, plus The Classic by no means represents their current act-bility, one can’t help but ‘forgive’ and overlook this aspect. It is also one of the movies that regardless of the era you’re watching this will tug your sentiment, and at which you can’t help but love.
The Classic (Keulraesik)
Director: Kwak Jae-yong
Production: Egg Films, 2003
Cast: Son Ye-jin, Jo Seung-woo, Lee Ki-woo, Jo In-sung
Genre: K-movie, Romance, Melodrama