Review A Moment to Remember


Member: Rank 4
For Monday's review, I'm going back to Korea. Many people, when asked "what does Korea do best?" in movies, might say...melodrama. They cornered the market for a while. Below, I review one of the best.

A Moment to Remember (2004)
Directed by John H. Lee
Starring Woo-sung Jung, Ye-jin Son, and Jong-hak Baek
In Korean with English subtitles
Film: 5 stars (out of 5)

When a Korean romance and melodrama film works, it *really* works. A Moment to Remember hit on all cylinders for me.

Su-jin (played by the very pretty Ye-jin Son; Lover’s Concerto; The Classic; April Snow) is the pampered daughter of a high-ranking property developer. She is used to being chauffeured around and has made a name for herself as a designer. Cheol-su (played by Woo-sung Jung; Musa; Sad Movie; The Good, the Bad, and the Weird) is a skilled but headstrong carpenter who works for Su-jin’s father. Cheol-su is content to drive a ratty old jeep and live in conditions that we might classify as “trailer park chic.”

Anyway, in typical movie fashion they have a meet cute where a semi-comical misunderstanding sets things in motion. We soon discover that each has past baggage (he, a jailed mother who abandoned him; and she, an affair with a married man). Their differences become less and less important to each of them as their feelings develop.

I’ve just described a plot seen countless times in film. Throw in the inevitable fatherly disapproval and we’ve got the same old story, right?

Not so fast. This set-up takes you about halfway in. It is at this point where the film really grabs you and starts tugging at the old heartstrings. What is so good about the first hour is just how well we get to know the characters and really care about them. Cardboard cutouts used simply to move the plot along they are not. I can’t stress this enough. For example, the first 3 minutes of the film and we already feel like we know Su-jin’s pain relating to the affair she was having, without her even saying a word. And the romance that develops between Su-jin and Cheol-su is certainly one of the most “natural” (that is, not obviously “movie contrived”) and affecting I’ve seen in a Korean film. I *loved* the way their relationship developed.

And that is what makes what happens later so devastating.

Once the stage is set for the melodrama, we can guess what types of scenarios our two leads will face. For example, if this were a movie about a kid with cancer (which it is not), we would know we were in for the chemo scenes, the hair falling out, the struggles, the temporary victories and setbacks, and (depending on the film) eventual triumph or bring out the hankies.

It is a testament to the director and the cast that the “inevitable scenes” were handled so well. I never felt manipulated; never felt like the drama or emotions were being forced down my throat (a couple of other Korean films, Scent of Chrysanthemums and Last Present come to mind as examples of forced and overly melodramatic treacle. Bleah.).

A Moment to Remember really elevated itself. I admit it does not take a lot to get the waterworks flowing for me, and this one brings out the tears for certain. Every time I watch it, the last 30 minutes or so I’m pretty much a basket case. I just re-watched this again yesterday, to prepare for this review, and I had to keep pausing the DVD during the last half hour to dry my eyes, ‘cause I couldn’t even read the subtitles.

The director even nailed the music used--the first half of the film, as the relationship develops, the musical cues are not at all what you would expect for a Korean film, but work wonderfully. The second half, he switches to a more conventional classical score, which is perfectly suited for the later on-screen developments.

**IMPORTANT NOTE**: This review is for the 117 minute “theatrical version” of the film. This is the version you want to see. I can’t stress this enough. The 2-disc Korean SE DVD also contains an extended 144 minute “director's cut.” However, the added scenes add nothing of importance to the film and in many instances actually detract from the emotional response. The director seems to agree, based on his intro note to the longer version where he basically said that the theatrical cut was released as his definitive version. But I guess sometimes you gotta justify a $35 SE DVD somehow. Please, please, if you watch this film, make sure it is the theatrical version.

The 2-disc SE DVD is coded Region 3. Audio is Korean DD 5.1 with removable English or Korean subtitles (both versions of the film).

Disc 1: Theatrical version. Two audio commentaries (no English subs). Featurettes (no English subs): “Making of A Moment to Remember” (about 25 min.); “Memories” which includes interviews and other discussions; several minutes of behind-the-scenes goofing around; more behind-the scenes footage under the title “Staff of A Moment to Remember”; outtakes and deleted scenes. Theatrical teaser and TV Spots. Two music videos featuring melodramatic ballads and scenes/with actors from the film.

Disc 2: Extended director’s cut. Something called “John’s Portfolio” which is a 11-minute collage of avant-garde looking film clips/music videos. Quite the interesting way to showcase the director’s filmography or other works that the director had a hand in. Certainly more creative than just a filmography list. A one-minute short film (“Parallel Action”) that Lee made for a film class at New York University while a student in 1991.

Previous reviews:
2/13: A Tale of Two Sisters
2/20: Comrades, Almost a Love Story
2/27: A Chinese Tall Story
3/6: The Mystery of Rampo
3/9: Clean
3/13: The Bride with White Hair
3/20: No Blood, No Tears
3/27: Angel Dust
4/3: A Chinese Torture Chamber Story
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Member: Rank 5
I blindly ditched my theatrical cut when the DC Blu-ray came out. I haven't watched it and now you've given me buyer's remorse and I never bought anything.

I considered this the Gold Standard for years. What's his face is very good in this and Ye-jin is unimpeachable, unbelievable, unimaginably lovely. And they make the film good by being so good. Every time you think you may want to roll your eyes, water falls out of them. There are a couple films that came along a few years later and contested its leadership role. I'll have to re-watch them all to decide which one comes out on top today. I'll try to find a theatrical version for the bake off.


Member: Rank 4
I blindly ditched my theatrical cut when the DC Blu-ray came out.
Ouch! I'm sure for someone who hasn't seen the movie at all, the extended cut would be just fine. But watching them back-to-back (as I have on two occasions) makes it clear that the theatrical version is better.

There are a couple films that came along a few years later and contested its leadership role. I'll have to re-watch them all to decide which one comes out on top today.
I'l love to hear what you've got for recommendations regardless of which might "come out on top" as you say. Chances are, I'd watch all of them and have a different conclusion than you, anyway. Melodrama is a tough category for me. I absolutely love the good ones, but have very little tolerance for the bad ones. The problem is, there is a very fine line (for me) that tips a film into the good or bad category. And I can't really define it. All I can do is go with my gut while watching.


Member: Rank 5
there is a very fine line (for me) that tips a film into the good or bad category
That's what makes them great when they are great. The fine line.

Two flicks that made me reassess the Gold Standard (unsurprisingly, both Korean):
Love Phobia (Domabaem) [2006] • South Korea
Hye-jeong Kang, at just twenty-six, is on a roll. Seung-woo Cho is also very good as Jo-Kang. Both are convincing as teenagers and as young adults, a testament to the Korean epidermis, perhaps, as much as thespian prowess.
More Than Blue (Seulpeum Boda Deo Seulpon Iyagi) aka "Sad Sad Love Story" / "A Story Sadder Than Sadness" [2009] • South Korea

I reviewed the latter for Twitchfilm

The former made me weep uncontrollably. The bike scene near the end when the aliens are coming, omg. The latter, although so incredibly sad you want to punch it in the face, left me dry, and broken. Because it is sadder than sadness it transcends mere tears sad.gif


Member: Rank 4
Love Phobia: I've seen it and have the DVD on my shelf. But it was back in 2007 and I gave it a mediocre rating. I'll rewatch it and see if it grabs me anew.

More than Blue: Hmmm, not familiar with this one. I will seek it out.

"Sad Sad Love Story" / "A Story Sadder Than Sadness": This jogged my memory of another Korean film titled, appropriately enough, Sad Movie. From 2005. Another one I watched once and is sitting on my shelf. I gave it an above average (but not great) rating. Perhaps I'll rewatch this one also in the upcoming week or so.

Hopefully I can withstand the deluge of emotions if I'm about to go on a melodrama binge. Hell, I might as well just cave in and rewatch the TV drama Stairway to Heaven as long as I'm about to attempt suicide by K-melodrama. That's like playing Russian Roulette with 5 chambered rounds. You are guaranteed to lose that battle.


Member: Rank 5
I agree with everything you said. This is one of my all-time favorites. One thing I can't forget about this which made me run for the hills (not because its bad but because I can't handle the sadness) is when she said I love you repeatedly. Because she's afraid her memory fucks up again, at least she was able to say how she feels. Or something along that. cry.gif

Funny how over the years, I've been a fan of movies where one has amnesia, or is dying, or has a terminal/incurable disease. Never knew it would happen to me personally. :emoji_bug:

The two movies which @sitenoise recommended are very very good. They made me cry when I thought my tear ducts are already broken. I agree with your remark on how the Koreans just kill it with their melodrama. They're experts on it. That's a given already.


Member: Rank 4
movies where one has amnesia, or is dying, or has a terminal/incurable disease
You should really watch the drama/romance series Stairway to Heaven. It's got all three!

Regarding A Moment to Remember, there were so many scenes that tore me up. When he's reading the letter she left for him. When she got confused with her ex. Then, at the end, after she has some small comprehension that he's done something good and she's amongst loved ones she can't hardly remember, and she looks at him and says "Is this heaven?" And he cries and tells her "yes."

Damn, now I'm all tore up again.