Gray-haired lovers become cinema hit

By Korea Herald

Documentary “My Love, Don’t Cross That River” is attracting younger viewers for its heartwarming real-life tale of a couple

  • Published : Dec 15, 2014 - 20:36
  • Updated : Dec 15, 2014 - 20:38

A documentary about a couple who have been married for 76 years is storming the box office, with more than 1 million tickets sold so far, a rare feat for an indie-film in Korea.

“My Love, Don’t Cross That River,” directed by Jin Mo-young, nabbed the top spot on Korea’s box office chart over the weekend, beating out blockbusters “Exodus” and “Interstellar.”

The film has attracted a total of 1.06 million viewers since it premiered on Nov. 26, according to the state-run Korea Film Council.

It seems only a matter of time before the film breaks the previous box office record for a documentary Korean indie film, held by the 2009 film “Old Partner” viewed by 2.93 million.

The 86-minute film centers on a real-life couple, 98-year-old Jo Byeong-man and his 89-year-old wife Kang Kye-yeol’s simple and happy life in a mountain village in Hoengseong, Gangwon province.

The couple’s story was first aired in five episodes of a TV documentary series entitled, “Gray-haired Lovers” on the nationwide network KBS in 2011. The director, after watching the couple on the small screen, took his camera to the village and filmed them for 15 months starting from September 2012. 
A scene from the film “My Love, Don’t Cross That River.” (Daemyung Culture Factory)

The elderly couple hold hands together, while wearing matching colorful “hanbok” (traditional clothes) wherever they go.

In spring, they pick flowers together; in summer, they hang out by a lake splashing water at each other. The plot is very simple as the camera follows the couple as they enjoy their lives. The documentary is not peppered with narration nor further explanation; the camera just zooms in on the couple.

But the story takes a turn when their beloved dog dies and, apparently as a consequence, Byeong-man’s body slowly weakens. The couple prepares to bid farewell to each other.

The film first opened on 186 screens across the country but in its third week on 806 screens, the most screens for a documentary film.

“The film’s realistic portrayal of an old couple was very heartwarming,” said Chung Hye-ran, a housewife in her 50s who watched the film with her husband. “Watching the film made me wanted to age with my husband just like them ― find happiness in simple things in life.” Chung also noted that she was surprised to see the theater filled with people in their 20s and 30s.

Reflecting Chung’s observation, the film about an elderly couple is more popular among young people, an unexpected outcome. Even the director had people in their 40s and 50s in mind as the film’s main audience.

According to the data compiled by Korea’s largest multiplex chain CGV on their members, people in their 20s account for 54.2 percent of the total viewers of the film. People in their 30s were second with 24.3 percent, followed by those in their 40s with 15.5 percent.

“We live in such a society where everything changes so rapidly, including relationships,” said Kim Eun-ah, a 28-year-old female office worker. “I was inspired by their commitment and devotion that sustained for such a long period, which unfortunately is hard to find these days.”

“The documentary centers on an elderly couple, but it is a story of love ― a real one that lasted for a lifetime,” said Choi Kyong-mi of Creative Communication SKY, the PR Company of the film. She thinks that the audiences were able to connect with the universal theme of love portrayed in the film.

“Also, word-of-mouth and SNS played a big role.”

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)