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[Herald Review] Just to ‘Be With You’

Korean remake of Japanese drama film is heartfelt and appealing to the local audience

The past prevalence of melodramas on both small and silver screens has been a divisive issue among Korean audiences.

While a great many fans enjoy dramatic tearjerkers, others are against the film’s tendency of turning into a cry fest.

“Be With You” -- directed by Lee Jang-hoon and starring So Ji-sub and “Melodrama Queen” Son Ye-jin -- is a film that does a satisfactory job of adding the right amount of sadness. 

A scene from “Be With You” (Lotte Entertainment)
A scene from “Be With You” (Lotte Entertainment)

The story follows Woo-jin and his son Ji-ho, played by So and child actor Kim Ji-hwan, who struggle to cope with the loss of Woo-jin’s wife Soo-ah, played by Son. Woo-jin is heartbroken and concerned over his son, who truly believes that his mother will return in the rainy season, just like in his favorite fairy tale.

In a midsummer day’s miracle, however, Soo-ah actually returns -- albeit without her memories -- and tries to find ways to write a storybook ending for the biggest love of her life.

Son is easily the strongest element in the film, being one of the biggest names in the genre. While she is not the most versatile actress, her talent in saying a thousand words just with her face and tear-filled puppy eyes works out just right.

A scene from “Be With You” (Lotte Entertainment)
A scene from “Be With You” (Lotte Entertainment)

Casting a 180-centimeter hunk to play a role of a guy who needs protection may appear to be a stretch, but So Ji-sub surprisingly pulls off the part quite well. His timid but earnest behavior toward the people of life captures the essence of Woo-jin’s character.

Their chemistry with the child actor is quite astonishing, which is somewhat ironic considering that the both are childless.

So has noted that the pressure of playing a father was why he initially turned down the part. But So’s helplessness fits perfectly as Woo-jin’s situation -- of suddenly being the sole child carer -- is similar to what he’s going through.

Child actors rarely really act and Ji-hwan is hardly Natalie Portman in “Leon: The Professional,” but his acting rarely pulls the audience back to reality. In fact, he delivers one of the film’s strongest moments in the third act.

There is really one memorable supporting actor, but Ko Chang-seok as Woo-jin’s best friend Hong-goo is right on the money. Casting a mid-40s man to play a 20-something who looks old because of bad medication already spells comedy, and the veteran actor does a good job of providing the light-hearted, enjoyable moments here and there.

Gong Hyo-jin’s cameo appearance was pretty pointless, but enjoyably silly.

The film is very predictable, and it goes the standard route -- among Korean films of the genre -- of being funny at first and cry fest in the end. But most of the jokes are harmless and cute, even when they don’t really work, and the heartfelt moments are strong.

Fans of the original film may have mixed feelings toward it, as the Japanese version was much less sobby. Compared to the original, the movie may look like it’s trying to hit the audience to directly on the nose.

But Korean movies tend to be a tad more tear-filled than the Japanese audience, and it doesn’t go overboard that much. The movie understand that its job to induce emotions, not to be overcome by them.

“Be With You” opens in local theaters on March 14. 

By Yoon Min-sik

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