"A Moment to Remember"
South Korea. 2004. Directed by Lee Jae-han; Written by Kim Yeong-ha and Lee Jae Han; Starring: Jeong Woo-sung, Son Ye-jin, Baek Jong-hak and Lee Sun-jin.
Now this is what I call an emotional traffic jam. It's a traffic jam so clogged up that its drivers have abandoned the road and any direction they were originally heading to. “A Moment to Remember” is so chock full of tearjerker elements in such a disorganized mess that all of its attempts to yank a few heartstrings only make discordant noises along the way.
I will readily admit that I appreciate a great, heart-tugging romance movie when I see one. I’m the guy who loved “The Notebook,” which honestly depicted a man's patience and perseverance for his wife whose memory was failing her. I even embraced “A Walk to Remember,” which was largely ignored by the public but I loved because it told such an innocent tale of love that was based on mutual trust and values instead of lust.
“A Moment to Remember” somewhat resembles “The Notebook” is that it is also about a woman who is losing her mind and her husband who sticks by her but falls way short of that far superior film. The filmmakers perhaps wanted to make a movie about whether true love is rooted in memory or something beyond that. But the story just jumps its characters through one contrived, weepy hoop after another as if made for people with ADD. So much that it takes halfway through the two and a half hour runtime to actually get to the titular significance.
The movie does not even get the initial love at first sight bit right. Cheol-su (Jeong Woo-sung) and Soo-jin (Son Ye-jin) meet at a convenience store where the latter leaves the Coke can she just bought and runs back to get it. She runs into the Cheol-su with a Coke can and thinking that he just stole her drink, she snatches it back and gulps it all to a loud belch. She later realizes that she actaully stole her drink and he kindly let her have his. So, ding, she is smitten with him, while coming off as surly and stupid. This leads to their even stupider courtship, which is just a montage of scenes showing them laughing and giggling in slow motion, accompanied by romantic Spanish music. As if that communicates that they're in love...
Of course there is some familial opposition due to their social class difference, as he is a menial construction worker and she is from a rich family. All is well, though, when she suddenly and conveniently faints on the street during the family dinner and he comes to the rescue. I'm willing to bet that she planned that on cue to get over that infinitesimal hurdle. They soon get married, which consists of Soo-jin glamorously walking down the stairs to meet her man as if making an entrance in the high school prom. That "marriage" scene is shot in white ethereal tones just in case we missed that this is a match made in heaven.
So much for a match made in heaven because the filmmakers simply descend the couple further into the pits of melodramatic hell. We have the man’s irresponsible, money-grubbing mother who cusses like a sailor and barges into her son’s office asking for money after he has succeeded well as an architect. Soo-jin tries to convince Cheol-su to forgive her because she was able to be forgiven of her faults in the past, which was having an affair with her married boss at work.
It takes about an hour in the film to actually get to the real point of the story, when an illness strikes Soo-jin. No, it doesn’t kill her physically but destroys her memory and she learns she has Alzheimer’s disease. So does the movie get into how there's more to love than a set of memories? No, it gets an unintentional laugh when we she confuses Cheol-su with that lecherous old boss who wants to come back into her life again.
Huh, is this what true love really is? Does that mean she was unable to move on and is still dumb enough to be smitten with that man after suffering irreversible humiliation? The movie sheepishly has a doctor character explain this saying the most recent memories fade away first. I would think that she is acting more like a cartoon character who got clocked in the head with a sledgehammer. Not to mention this churlish and dishonest treatment of Alzheimer's would offend many in real life who have family members suffering from this disease.
Amidst the clutter, there are a few moments of truth and insight, all involving Soo-jin's father, played by Park Sang-gyu. Whenever he appears on screen, it is like a breath of fresh air because we know he will say something wise that actually seems to come from years of experience. Even in a later scene that is unconvincing from a plot standpoint, Park manages to make it somewhat believable due to the conviction he delivers his lines with.
The director is Lee Jae-han who co-wrote the movie with Kim Yeong-ha. They apparently forgot about thematic consistency and decided to brainstorm every single tearjerker cliche they could think of squeezing into their dreafully long runtime. I kept hoping for the film to develop a single element better whether it be the messiness of marriage, guilt and forgiveness, leaving the past where it is, loving someone even they can’t remember them soon afterwards or whether we are more than the sum of our memories. I should have known the filmmakers were never that ambitious.
There is a much better, more streamlined Korean melodrama that covers much of the same elements as true love and marriage called “You Are My Sunshine” in 2005. Compared to that film, "A Moment to Remember" is a total sham. Note that I have not explicitly said that this movie is a love story. That is on purpose.
Note: This is for the director's cut of the movie, which runs 27 minutes longer than the theatrical version.