[K-FILM REVIEWS] 외출 (April Snow)
April Snow - KOREA 2005
Wechul (lit. Going Out)
105 Minutes - 35mm Panoramic 1.85:1 - Colour
Produced by: 블루스톰 (Blue Storm)
Distributed By: 쇼이스트 (Show East)
International Sales: 쇼이스트 (Show East)
Opening Day: 09/08/2005
Rating: 18 and Over
Box Office: 802,193 Nationwide Admissions
Note: The review contains spoilers.
Director - 감독: 허진호 (Hur Jin-Ho)
Writer - 각본: 신준호 (Shin Joon-Ho), 이원식 (Lee Won-Shik), 서유민 (Seo Yoo-Min), 이일 (Lee Il), 허진호 (Hur Jin-Ho), 이숙연 (Lee Sook-Yeon), 김효관 (Kim Hyo-Gwan)
Executive Producer - 제작: 정태운 (Jung Tae-Woon)
Producer - 프로듀서: 강봉래 (Kang Bong-Rae)
Cinematography - 촬영: 이모개 (Lee Mo-Gae)
Lighting - 조명: 오승철 (Oh Seung-Cheol)
Music - 음악: 조성우 (Jo Sung-Woo)
Editor - 편집: 이은수 (Lee Eun-Soo)
Art Director - 미술: 박상훈 (Park Sang-Hoon)
배용준 (Bae Yong-Joon), 손예진 (Son Ye-Jin), 임상효 (Im Sang-Hyo), 김광일 (Kim Gwang-Il), 전국환 (Jeon Guk-Hwan), 유승목 (Yoo Seung-Mok), 이한위 (Lee Han-Hwi), 김세동 (Kim Se-Dong), 전대병 (Jeon Dae-Byung), 안세호 (Ahn Se-Ho), 주부진 (Joo Boo-Jin), 박신영 (Park Shin-Young), 류승수 (Ryu Seung-Soo)
CAMEO: 리쌍 (Leessang), 러브홀릭 (Loveholic), 클래지콰이 (Clazziquai)
외출 (外出)... going out. Escaping, biding farewell to something. It's quite ironic Hur Jin-Ho chose such a (Korean) title for his latest film. All of his work before 외출 (April Snow) represented an escape from certain stylistic and genre-specific elements which were dominating the scene; the characters in his films always escaped from or parted ways with something, be it their lives or relationships. Hur's career is very peculiar, as after only two films and a couple of shorts he managed to create his own cinematic world, using long takes reminding of Ozu Yazujiro and Hou Hsiao-Hsien, with a subtle but warm touch in painting his characters. Hur built a large fanbase at home and abroad, creating even more expectations when news that he would cast 'Yonsama' Bae Yong-Joon and queen of box office Son Ye-Jin as the leading couple broke out. Yet, ironically, 'April Snow' is another escape, perhaps from Hur's own style. It took four long years, but seeing so many changes in Chungmuro while he was away might have affected his own approach to filmmaking.
The mid-to-late nineties were a very exciting period for Korean Cinema, with many new directors making their entry into Chungmuro, revitalizing the industry both in terms of creativity and enthusiasm. Hong Sang-Soo, Kim Ji-Woon, Park Chan-Wook, Im Sang-Soo, Lee Jae-Yong, Song Neung-Han and many others left a lasting impression on their debut or first important film, and even western critics, who always ignored Korean Cinema save for of a few isolated cases, started to acknowledge this new influx of talent and what it meant for the industry. Yet, this change took its time to make an impact on the commercial side of the spectrum, as the majority of mainstream Korean cinema still fell into two camps: the cheap videotape filler, mostly comedies with big stars; and tearjerking, trite melodramas. Although 1997 gave us gems like 넘버 3 (No. 3), which made a quirky and exhilarating u-turn in local comedies, and Lee Chang-Dong's 초록물고기 (Green Fish), the top Korean film at the box office was 편지 (The Letter). An eruption of tear gas hitting Korean theaters near the end of the year, Lee Jung-Guk's film starred Choi Jin-Shil and Park Shin-Yang in an ode to 불치병 (fatal disease) cliches and sledgehammer melodrama, perfectly exemplifying everything that was wrong with Chungmuro at the time. But two films in particular made a big impact commercially between 1997 and 1998, in many ways changing many assumptions about mainstream cinema in the country. One was Jang Yoon-Hyun's wonderful 접속 (The Contact), the other Hur Jin-Ho's debut, 8월 크리스마스 (Christmas in August).
After majoring in philosophy at Yonsei University, Hur enrolled in the Korean Film Academy. His graduation short 고철을 위하여 (Hurrah For the Junk), shot in collaboration with Yoo Young-Shik of 아나키스트 (Anarchists) and starring Ahn Seok-Hwan, went on to receive praise at Vancouver, and allowed Hur to enter the industry from the back door in the early 90s. In the following few years, Hur would take part in some of the most important Korean films of the 90s: he was assistant director on Park Gwang-Soo's 그 섬에 가고 싶다 (To The Starry Island), which started his working relationship with Director Park. Two years later, the two along with Lee Chang-Dong, Kim Jung-Hwan and Lee Hyo-In wrote one of the decade's most shining highlights: 아름다운 청년 전태일 (A Single Spark). Telling the story of Jeon Tae-Il, one of the most influential labor activist in the country's modern history, the film was filled to the brim with great and resonating images, a strong, almost painful to watch injection of realism and social commentary, and acting which transcended time and geographical locations. Still, those formative years didn't prepare audiences and critics for what we would see in Hur's debut film.
It was supposed to be called 즐거운 편지 (Cheerful Letter), but the production company changed it to 8월의 크리스마스 (Christmas in August), with an eye at the box office. Of course, the title also mirrors a famous poem by Hwang Dong-Gyu, and it was one of Hur's major inspirations for the story. But it all started with a simple photography, that of singer Kim Kwang-Seok and his funeral portrait. He had this bittersweet, graceful smile on his face, it instantly captured Hur's attention, and he eventually used that image in one of the film's most striking scenes. Other films of that time dealing with fatal diseases and characters with little time left to live (시한부) would go for cheap tearjerking, or try to make the character's life memorable. But 'Christmas in August' was different: Jung-Won (Han Suk-Gyu) didn't make any drastic change to his life, and instead went out (our first 'outing', as I said) with grace and dignity, without making life for the people around him even more difficult. The film was like a leaf flowing in the wind, calmly and subtly, with a beauty of its own. While saying something important about life, Hur used memories -- through photographs, and the way characters approached each other -- to define the characters' personalities, without awkward flashbacks or any of those techniques. Thanks to the able hand of legendary DP Yoo Young-Gil, who would pass away just weeks before the film debuted in theaters, Hur created one of the best and most memorable 'anti-melodramas' Korean Cinema had ever seen.
Another feat Hur accomplished was making a 'mature' actor out of idol Shim Eun-Ha, and the same happened when he cast Lee Young-Ae and Yoo Ji-Tae in his following film, 2001's 봄날은 간다 (One Fine Spring Day). A very popular TV actress with a clean cut, almost 'perfect' image the former, and a promising but raw young actor the latter, Hur was able to get from Lee what few other people ever could: some of that 사람냄새 (smell of real people) she never had to show, as with a few exceptions the image she built on TV and CFs was that of the distant beauty impossible to approach, a sort of pre-Korean Wave Choi Ji-Woo. Lee finally felt real, vibrant, someone with flaws and weaknesses, but also a certain charm deriving from that. A real person, so to speak. The film continued Hur's objective (I wouldn't use 'distant' for his work, as it always had a certain warmth) look on relationships, this time talking about how love can come and go like a breeze, like the Spring (Korean title roughly means 'The Spring Days Are Coming to an End'). TV Dramas like 가을동화 (Autumn Fairy Tale) would create the illusion that 'love is forever', but 'One Fine Spring Day' was much more down to earth and sincere, which is probably why I like it so much. Although the characters' love is short lived, it never shows any of the antics which plagued melodramas back in the day (outing no. 2!), with the characteristically bittersweet Hur Jin-Ho tone. What remains from the two works is that sense of memories being much more important than love stories, at least in Hur's film world. Jung-Won goes out with his best friend drinking one last time, he looks at old photos, reminiscing about his past. And by the same token Sang-Woo (Yoo Ji-Tae) in 'One Fine Spring Day' is reminded of the good times he spent with her, listening to the breeze, the sound of the Spring. This is one of the major recurring themes in Hur's work.
Still, Hur took several years between projects, and it was inevitable something would change. Not only Hur himself, but the industry's development might have driven him towards other goals, or his tastes might have changed. You can see a certain evolution between his first and second film: 'One Fine Spring Day' was a little more realistic, less poetic and 'beautiful' but perhaps more meaningful as a result. And of course you can look at the way relationships develop in the two films, compare the kind of outlook the characters have on love. Between 'One Fine Spring Day' and 'April Snow', Hur shot the short 따로 또 같이 (Alone But Together), as part of 이공 (Twentidentity), an omnibus film with 20 shorts, made to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Korean Film Academy. A little gem in itself, the short stars Yoon Jin-Seo as a young woman who looks at a video of her days with her past boyfriend, crying between sadness for her loss and happiness reminiscing about the good times she spent with him. Again, memories. If you look at the three films and put them in a sort of timeline, you can see a certain evolution: Jung-Won and Da-Rim (Shim Eun-Ha) represent the first approach between two lovers, the characters in 'One Fine Spring Day' experience a short-lived relationship and the immediate repercussions (anger, jealousy), and the characters in 'Alone But Together' are already past that moment, and relive that experience through memories.
Although I haven't seen Hur's other short 나의 새 남자친구 (My Three Boyfriends), it's interesting to look at 'April Snow' with the director's past work in mind. Because then you can only see it as another outing, this time escaping from the style Hur showed on his previous works. Of course it still features many of the recurring themes present in his past films, like the use of memories, a lack of clear and definite answers to the questions which arise from the story, and the character's occupation mirroring or helping define his situation -- in this case In-Soo (Bae Yong-Joon)'s job as a lighting director is a sort of metaphor for his life, trying to control emotions (light) and only use them when needed. Yet, for the first time Hur gets closer to his characters, he uses closeups much more frequently than in the past, and there are over 300 cuts in the film, around double his usual amount. Also, music is used in a different way, not anymore as a simple emotional background (Christmas in August) or as a tool to develop and often mirror the characters' psychological state (One Fine Spring Day). The music in 'April Snow', by Hur regular Jo Sung-Woo, is much more focused on creating a mood, directly helping define the differences in atmosphere the film shows between past and present. This time we have two married characters, two people whose life has a certain set direction, something they will find increasingly hard to maintain through the course of the film, and eventually get out of (final, third outing). But the most important element to take into account is that, for the first time, Hur used someone else's work (by novelist Kim Hyun-Kyung) as the film's basis.
불륜 (adultery) has been a recurring theme in recent Korean Cinema, from Jung Ji-Woo's 해피엔드 (Happy End) to Yoo Ha's 결혼은 미친 짓이다 (Marriage is a Crazy Thing), but it's not so predominant in 'April Snow', if you go beyond the surface. We start with In-Soo and Seo-Young (Son Ye-Jin), who end up sharing the same faith: their partners had a car crash and are lying in a hospital bed, between life and death. After going through their personal items, the two find that wasn't the only thing they had in common. Hur felt that the situation In-Soo and Seo-Young fall in, that of developing a mutual relationship thanks to the situation they fall into, wouldn't be realistic if it took place in Seoul. But, while location hunting, Hur found the small city of Samcheok, in Gangwon Province. Just outside the hospital was a Motel, the location where the two start to grow closer. It's not simply because their attraction for each other grows, but in sharing the same condition, they find someone who can understand what they're going through. In sharing the same exact pain, that anger mixed with apprehension, that insecurity and confusion, that feeling of wanting it all to end steals their attention. They have a hard time eating, sleeping, thinking, because that's all that's flashing in front of them: their partners risk death, but they also had an affair. Did they do anything to cause that, did they do anything wrong?
Ahhh... the irony of life. You're angry for what your partner did to you, trying to understand why, even going as far as repeating his same exact steps to come to a conclusion. Then, you fall for it too, you fall prey to this attraction that comes when you share something important with another person. Who knows, maybe their partners found something in common as well, both victims of a boring life with very little 'real' sentiments. Both trapped by modern life, by work, by going through the same routines. And now, by sharing the same situation, In-Soo and Seo-Young go through the same attraction, they find what finally escaped them for so long. Yet, it's all so brief. Because looking at them will only end up reminding of one thing: the past, the memories they cherished, now tarnished forever. I really wanted to like 'April Snow', I tried my best to dissociate it from the rest of Hur's work, and it mostly succeeds on those terms. It's well written, although I wouldn't trade the poetic simplicity of Hur's past works with this new measured, almost TV Drama like 'realism'. The music and visual cues are ably orchestrated, and it's just as subtle as all of Hur's past works. Yet... it's still a product. A 한류 (Korean Wave) machine ready to be exploited.
Fact: Bae Yong-Joon is a money making machine the likes of which Korean Cinema has never seen before. Commanding the attention and wallets of a huge segment of the 30-40-something female population in Japan, 'Yonsama' has built an image that's strong enough to get green lights for a project like this. Arguable position: his acting hasn't improved one bit in the last 3 years, not so much because he doesn't have the talent, but more for his continuous attempts to control his image. Everything from his public appearances to his photobooks, TV Dramas and films seem to come just at the right moment, perfectly balanced, with always an eye to his legion of fans. When he 'debuted' (it wasn't his real film debut) in Chungmuro thanks to Lee Jae-Yong's 스캔들 (Untold Scandal), he did so with a super cast, able to cover up his shortcomings, and a director who knew how to create great sexual tension without turning the film into 거짓말 2 (Lies 2). Sure, he 'changed' in the film, playing a womanizer, but did he really grow as an actor? Bae can say anything he wants about what he gained from this film, but his performance is still a monotone essay. We're supposed to feel his anger, his rage, his conflicting emotions, but all I see is Joon-Sang from 겨울연가 (Winter Sonata), with that 'limbo expression' stamped on his face. Is he happy, sad, does he care at all? That poker face, which conveys control more than any emotion, would fit if he played a Vulcan in one of the many Star Trek films, but this is a melodrama. A different and subtle one it might be, but you still have to convey something.
When I should see In-Soo trying to rap along with Leessang's song, engulfed by the rage of the situation, it's just Yonsama trying to act. When I should see In-Soo playing Go-Stop next to Seo-Young, it feels like this guy had never touched hwatoo cards before. When he tries to get drunk (and he did drink!) after learning of his wife's betrayal, it's completely devoid of any emotion, let alone anger. There's a reason why Bae tries to control his image so much: his acting is extremely one-dimensional, and after finding his 'dimension' with 'Winter Sonata', any attempt to deviate strongly from that image will create problems for his target fanbase, who will find it hard to identify with him. The same thing could have happened to Park Chan-Wook's 친절한 금자씨 (Sympathy For Lady Vengeance), as Lee Young-Ae had a similarly strong image, often overpowering every project she worked on. But while building the film around her, he slowly stripped her image, the preconceptions the public had regarding her past work, and was able to find the real Lee Young-Ae, the person, the vibrating emotion hidden behind the facade of the CFs and TV Dramas.
'April Snow' can't do that. It's still a Hur Jin-Ho film, and it's certainly not a complete disaster, but it's primarily a film about Yonsama, for Yonsama, and of Yonsama. It can only find the image and not the person, it can't strip Yonsama from the real Bae Yong-Joon. I don't know if that's something Hur wasn't able to or didn't want to do, or if it's just another 'cruise control' operation to maintain the Yonsama Graceland intact, but as a film, it simply fails. Because I'm not watching In-Soo slowly fall for Seo-Young in a confusing, complicated situation. I'm just seeing Joon-Sang (or Yonsama) catch his next prey inside the web. And if I wanted to watch product placement like that, I'd have 300 Hollywood films a year to choose from...
AUDIO, VIDEO, SUBTITLES
A really nice transfer, with no major problems. Skin tones look very natural, especially during the sex scenes, and even though the art direction and lighting plays a major role in the visuals, the transfer conveys the slightly 'cold' atmosphere of the film, despite its intended emotional power, Audio is very clear but mostly confined to the front channels, with very little surround activity. It energizes a little during the concert and a few other musical parts, but otherwise remains pretty quiet for the rest of the film. Subtitles are quite good, all considered. They manage to subtitle signs, cell phone messages, even things you barely notice when watching without subtitles, like the 'Intensive Care Unit' sign. If anything, sometimes they tend to oversimplify a few lines, and sometimes they get unnecessarily complicated, but overall nice work.
DISC 1 - EXTRA FEATURES
Audio Commentary with Director Hur Jin-Ho, Lighting Director Oh Seung-Cheol, DP Lee Mo-Gae
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS!!!
Commentaries are often very little but conversations the filmmakers have between each other, reminiscing a few anecdotes from the shoot. Sometimes that can be very fun, like when Park Joong-Hoon is involved. Other times it's just a collection of continued pats in the back, and it becomes annoying. But very rarely directors use commentaries for what they really have the potential to become: a venue to let your ideas about the film flow out freely, without having to follow questions, or 'prepare' answers for the International Media, TV, etc. This commentary will help you look at the film in a slightly different light, and I confess I added a half point to the film rating after getting a clearer view of Hur's intentions, even though I previously read dozens of interviews about the film. Very informative, especially if you're interested in the psychological aspects of the film, and one of the best commentary tracks of the year. Here's some of the highlights:
- Director Hur started explaining the big difference between this film and his previous ones. In 봄날은 간다 (One Fine Spring Day) as the film progressed the camera would gradually distance itself from the characters. He wanted something different in 외출 (April Snow), so he decided to start with a closeup of Bae Yong-Joon's face right from the beginning. The other two comment they really couldn't understand In-Soo's state of mind by looking at the first few scenes, and only after the first meeting at the hospital it was really clear. There was a scene with a closeup of In-Soo's face looking at his wife for the first time since the accident, but it was cut. The scene after, when In-Soo calls at work, took a good 30 takes. It wasn't that Bae was making mistakes, but Hur wanted to find the right tone. Even though this wasn't a particularly important scene in the film, it was the first real introduction of In-Soo as a character, so Bae needed to find the right tone, and Hur and the crew needed to adapt to that as well. Lee comments that it's often the case when you shoot with actors you're not familiar with. It may take several takes to find the right rhythm, even though they might not necessarily be all NGs. Hur worries there might a dozen takes better than the one he used, but he eventually had to stop, although he's satisfied with the outcome.
- Hur tried to repeat many scenes where the character find about their partners' affair looking at the items left at the police station. They had the condom scene, one with the cell phone, and even the digital camera. But he took off the latter, as he thought it was too repetitive, and they did enough to convey the right feeling. This opens the first of the commentary's big questions: what kind of man is In-Soo? Is he a nice person, or just acting like one? Is he foolish, naive, or what? Using the scene when In-Soo looks at his wife's cellphone as a launchpad, Hur created a sense of curiosity around the characters, just like the curiosity they were feeling towards each other. He talked a lot with Bae about how to introduce the character, that he wanted a 'healthy' person, both in physical and mental terms. Someone who seems to live life without big obstacles, then it all falls down, surprisingly. In adding the scene when Seo-Young looks at In-Soo's wife, he emphasized once again their initial curiosity about each other.
- With the scene at the pharmacy, Hur wanted to show the first real connection between In-Soo and Seo-Young. By sharing the same kind of suffering, not being able to sleep because of their worries, they sort of get closer. Even later, when Seo-Young cries outside the car, or the two meet the parents of the victim together, that all helps to create a sense the two were becoming at least friends. Two people united by facing the same problem, which is something helping them overcome their sadness, even if just a little. What Hur didn't want here was offering clear answers, showing the characters were convinced of what they were doing. He always kept this air of curiosity, of confusion any time the characters met, to convey the kind of state they were in. DP Lee comments that because of the slightly awkward dialogue, the scenery and rhythm of the film, it might give an 'old-fashioned' feeling to some, like watching a melodrama from the 80s.
- The first time we start to get a sense of what kind of person In-Soo is happens with his junior colleague. Up to then In-Soo might have given an overall feeling, but by focusing more on the colleague's reaction than In-Soo itself, we discover his personality. It's clear, by looking at him, that this guy has never seen In-Soo in this state, drunk and depressed. He always had a different image of him, as someone strong, someone who rarely let others know his psychological state. Hur used a very 'Hong Sang-Soo-like' style when shooting scenes like this, as actors drank real soju. Another element which emerges from In-Soo and Seo-Young staying in the same motel near the scene of the accident is their imagination. In-Soo looks at the digital camera clip of his wife and her lover having sex at another hotel, the same he will later go to do the same thing with Seo-Young. Seo-Young watches an adult film for a while on TV and starts thinking about the kind of situations her husband could have been in; looking at his wife's naked body while bathing her, In-Soo thinks of other men sleeping with her looking at the same body. It's all a combination of different thoughts forming on the two, which again get them closer, make them share the same kind of uncomfortable nervousness. And, eventually, this will be the spark that ignites their affair. Not to avenge what their partners did to them, but experience it first hand, to try to understand why they did it in the first place. After all, you can look at how many times the two wonder if they did anything wrong to cause all this.
- As for Seo-Young's job, that of housewife, Hur changed it after meeting with Son Ye-Jin. At first it was supposed to be just a teacher, but thinking about the season, and meeting with Son, he changed his mind. Since she married young, he wanted to try approaching the role as a very young housewife.
- Again, talking about the kind of relationship establishing between the two, he notes how one of the most important points is their meeting while having dinner, which was mostly ad-lib. In-Soo might say he wanted revenge, but it was only something he'd worry about later. What he's pushing here is that the characters go through the same situation to understand, not to get a sense of catharsis after paying them with the same. In fact, you could consider the coda of the film as the real beginning of In-Soo's 'revenge'. The two slowly start showing their real personality to each other, and by experiencing together a similar situation, something builds between them. It's not falling in love for each other, but this sharing the same situation and discovering together how and why they were betrayed, by feeling the same kind of anger about the situation, their interest for each other grows to the point they have a serious affair.
- In shooting the first sex scene -- the famous '9 hour' long one -- Hur wanted something really beautiful and sad. And again, he emphasizes how In-Soo has the digital camera clip on his mind, he's wearing similar clothes and having sex in the same place. This is not an 'eye for an eye' situation, but simply In-Soo re-living the experience, trying to understand what was going on his wife's mind while doing it. He wanted the shooting style to follow this nervousness, to convey what the two were going through. Talking again about closeups, and using the scene at the sea as an example, he wanted something a little different from other films, and the location also helped. It was that time when you're in between day and night, it's not certain, just like the feelings the two were experiencing. He took off full shots of the scene to show how this was their own world, their own experience. The scene when In-Soo hides Seo-Young was actually supposed to show before the sex scene, but Hur thought taking it off would have helped the sense of urgency, that's why he moved it after sex. Hur comments that he focused more on the two main characters, leaving little space for the supporting characters on purpose. He wanted to convey the psychological state of In-Soo and Seo-Young, and sort of use the supporting cast to pain their state in a more effective way.
- Finally, Hur notes how there's an air of 'revenge' to In-Soo's way of telling his wife about the death of her lover. Did his revenge on her start there? Did he just want to make her feel the same pain he went through? They discussed a lot about this with Bae. Although some people might feel the concert scene feels out of place, he wanted to show how In-Soo felt after concerts, that feeling of emptiness he described to Seo-Young.
After Commentary [2:39]
Different from the usual 'Post-commentary' clips, where the people involved joke around after the end of recording or similar things, the three involved simply offer their views on the film now that it's 'over'. Lighting Director Oh Seung-Cheol notes how when he starts every new project, he always feels excited and nervous. Then, as he starts working, he feels the weight of his responsibilities making an impact on him. But as he was doing the commentary, he really felt this adventure, this experience he made working on 'April Snow' was now over. And he felt a little sad about that. Lee Mo-Gae feels the opposite, that the film is not really over. He feels it wasn't the kind of film you could easily pinpoint, as nothing was really clear, defined, you had to take out your own answers from it. Hur reminisces of when he was asked why he makes films. It was a really simple question, but it ended up turning into a very complicated answer. The biggest thing Hur will take from this film, and what he hopes people will feel, is that 'April Snow' is about people who are suffering because of something, and about the way they react to that. Lee closes the clip saying that this film was an experience for him, it allowed him to try new things, and he certainly learned from it. Short, but really nice.
DISC 2 - EXTRA FEATURES
외출 (外出, Making)
Note: most of these Making Of features are shown in Anamorphic Widescreen. Nice touch.
- 설레임 (Excitement)
외출 준비 (Preparing April Snow) [3:01]
This first part of the clip is about the themes the director used to introduce the film to the other main crew members. Producer Kang Bong-Rae opens saying this was a film about the kind of anger and sense of betrayal we often try to suppress, control, even hide. Hur says he didn't really talk about the film clearly with the others, even though he met DP Lee and others before the script was completed. But as he kept writing, he let them in on the developments of the story, and the overall feeling of the film. Music Director Jo Sung-Woo talks of how confident Hur was about the subject of this film, and that it's much different from his other, past films. In the past he used the background a lot, to subtly convey certain feelings, but this film was much more powerful straight from the beginning. Lighting director Oh Seung-Cheol confirms Hur wanted this power and intensity right from the beginning, and it translated into its visual style.
서로 아시는 사이 인가요? (Do You Know Each Other?) [8:00]
This is pretty interesting even without English subtitles. Shows the costume fitting, the props photography (wedding photos, holiday photos with the original couples of the film, etc.), the opening ceremony and a dining out with the whole cast and crew. All set to Clazziquai's 'Stepping Out'.
화장하고 옷을 걸치고 (Makeup and Costumes) [8:32]
Excellent clip, as it shows how subtle changes can affect the mood of a film tremendously. Lee Eun-Kyung talks about the costumes and their concept. Of course everyone would like to go wild on costumes, let the characters wear beautiful clothes all the time, but since they have to fit the mood of the film, that's when the difficulties start. She worked hard with the lighting director to tone down the 'prettiness' of the actors, because the personality of their characters was much darker than the way they act in real life. So colours were a lot more muted than in other films they starred in. Also, costumes changed depending on the stage of the relationship the two were in. At first Seo-Young wears almost all black, and always darker, more muted colours. But as her interest in In-Soo builds, the colours get warmer, richer, and she feels like a woman falling in love for the first time once again. In finding this style, she first followed the director's directions, then asked the actors themselves, and finally added her personal touch. Again, Son Sam-Joo (the make-up artist) wanted to create something wilder for Son Ye-Jin, making her look like an average housewife, but Hur didn't want to force it. As for Bae, he needed very little in the way of make-up or hairstyle. One thing she notes is how Seo-Young ties up her hair at the beginning, but as she gets closer to In-Soo, lets her hair down. Just compare a few scenes at the beginning with Seo-Young at her happiest moment (on the beach?), analyze the impact of costumes and make-up there, and you'll see how much of a difference it makes. Really interesting.
- 미친 사랑 (Crazy Love) [29:57]
Bae Yong-Joon says this situation forming between In-Soo and Seo-Young is important, and it also shapes their future as a 'couple'. They can get closer to each other because they share the same pain, but that can also distance them, because any time they look at each other that will remind them of the accident. He comments how you can prepare a lot of things about a character, like his habits, his favorite colour and similar things, but this time, he felt himself immersing into the character scene after scene. And then all those elements come up from that, without the need to prepare in advance. DP Lee Mo-Gae talks of how it's difficult to adapt to Hur's directing style, as he never really sets a way to do things beforehand. He's someone who often changes details while shooting. Hur himself explains a little more the way he likes to shoot, focusing on longer takes, on letting the situation change the details, without necessarily preparing, fabricating the situation in advance. He prefers the feeling of the moment, making changes based on how things evolve on the spot. Bae concludes saying that this was an important film, because it allowed him to think about Bae Yong-Joon as an actor, and his future in the business. But also, as a person, reflect on what love really is.
More than being about Seo-Young, this is a continuation of the previous clip. Bae comments that this is the kind of story which could happen to anyone, but you always hope it'll never happen to you, that's why the reaction is so complicated. He talks of how Hur used the characters' personality, and the situation to 'direct' their acting. Since the two characters at first don't know each other, he told the two actors not to talk to each other, avoid getting close. Then, just like the natural progression of the film, slowly open their feelings. Hur comments that these were very complicated sentiments to handle, so instead of giving the actors any real direction, he thought about what would be the best way to bring the actors' real life personality come close to the characters he wanted. The clip continues showing how the scene in the theater (which was deleted anyway) is shot.
화려한 외출 (Wonderful Outing)
This is more of a straightforward behind the scenes clip, but there's a few comments. From Lee Mo-Gae, who was afraid the situation would get out of hands, when shooting outside, as many people gathered to watch the shoot. Also, Bae comments that through this film, he was able to think about love, how you constantly finds contradictions experiencing this sentiment. How you can't believe how people could betray your feelings, and then experience the irony of going through the same exact situation.
우리는 어떻게 될까요? (What will happen to us?)
One of my favorite parts of enterOne DVDs... a little space to the staff. Those incredibly hard working, underpaid, extremely talented people who make the films we watch possible. And that's it, the only real space they get to talk about the film. Most play it for laughs, commenting on their feelings about finishing the shoot, but that's enough. From the lighting team guy to costume team member No. 10, from the producers to the actors, It's like signing a big paper with their names, 'I was there, I worked hard with all the others'. Every single Film on DVD should have one of these, at least in Korea, where some of those people work 10 to 14 hours a day, and get paid very little. If passion for film isn't what makes them continue, I don't know what is. Sure isn't money.
- 잿빛 4월 (Grey April) [23:21]
외출 콘서트 (April Snow concert) [April 23~25 2005]
I knew they'd add this. There was a DVD release with the concert in Japan, selling a gazillion copies on its opening day, and I think it was part of that Making DVD which was released in Korea too, but this is a nice 20 Minutes feature about the concert itself. What we see in the film is just a few minutes, but it was an actual concert with real people (not staff or extras), and real bands. The concert featured Loveholic, a great little pop-rock band; Clazziquai, one of the best lounge pop bands in Asia, and Leessang, a hip hop group that's become really popular recently, as part of the Movement Crew. Bae Yong-Joon introduces the concert, along with Japanese translator who guides the many fans later, and then a few clips are shown. There's Lazybone making a cover of a famous 동물원 song, Loveholic with 너는 (part of the OST, and from their second album 'Invisible Things', which is excellent), Clazziquai with 'Stepping Out' (also in the OST, and from their first album 'Instant Pig'). More than focusing on the concert itself, most of the time while the songs go on we get looks at the director and Bae. Ji-Seon from Loveholic says a few words, along with Jo Sung-Woo, and Clazziquai.
Jo Sung-Woo, who worked on all of Hur's past films, talks about his work in the film, and Hur's style when it comes to choosing music for his films. The biggest focus of the score was separating between past and present, making the music for the past a little darker, conveying pain, and the one for the present a lot brighter. The major difference between Hur and the other directors is that he doesn't ask for a particular style, he tries different things until they fit with the film, so for Jo it's always a constant struggle to find the right mix, and he often ends up presenting different versions of the same song. As for the concert, they wanted to do the real thing from the beginning, as it gave a more realistic feeling. While all the artists they used were popular, they're not 'TV Stars' (think like BoA, Shinhwa, DBSG, Rain), but just talented musicians with a big following. They did that to avoid making those scenes stand out, to make the music steal the spotlight from the film itself (didn't work too much for me as I'm a big fan of both bands appearing in the film, but it should have worked fine for most other people who don't know them).
상 (像, Image)
- 시야 (視野, Range) [13:30]
용준일상 (Yong-Joon's Everyday Life)
An honest and interesting interview with Bae Yong-Joon, around 8 Minutes long. He opens saying that every single one of his projects was hard, and he always feels bad telling that to the director, be it because he might feel sorry about that, or even get angry. But this time it was really hard, this was the kind of film which made him think about his career as an actor, and what he would do in the future after something like this. This was the first time he really learned how to adapt to situations. Before 'April Snow', he used to prepare for certain scenes, to expect certain feelings, or predict certain situations. But thanks to Hur's guidance, he was able to understand the feeling of the moment, and use it to make the scene ring true. Director Hur chimes in saying he used different ways of directing than what Bae was used to, so it was a little difficult for him. Continuing, Bae thought that in acting, only one answer was correct. You either acted a scene well, or you didn't. But working with Hur, he found there's many approaches to a different scene, and they all might be right. It confused him and made it difficult to adapt to it, but eventually this was a nice experience for him an actor, and something which helped him mature. Acting wasn't the only thing which changed in this environment. He never had to drink for a scene either. Because he gets all red, and his ability to focus falls down while drinking, he was worried. But the feeling he needed to convey could only come from someone who could experience it, so he had to drink. He was a little worried when he started crying a lot, much more than usual, but felt in this situation, he was able to capture the right mood for the scene.
예진일상 (Ye-Jin's Everyday Life)
4 Minutes mixing clips behind the scenes and short interviews. Son Ye-Jin opens saying she's still very excited, nervous and has a lot of expectations regarding the film. This always happens to her when completing a project, so she feels good. Director Hur comments that her first day on the set was pretty hard, as they all had to adapt to each other's tone, but she did well. Lee Mo-Gae adds she's very intelligent, and has good judgmental skills.
- 연습 (演習, Rehearsal) [11:44]
산가집 스탭드르, 배우 리허설 (Mourning House Staff and Cast Rehearsal)
This is really nice. The first part of the clip shows the staff setting up all the furniture and prepare the location for the scene (the one when Seo-Young and In-Soo visit the family of the victim). Then, I don't know why (maybe a camera test?), but a few staff members try out the actors' scenes, and fool around hitting each other for a good 5 Minutes. Final part shows the real rehearsal and shooting process, and how they arrived at the final result, after adding various ideas the cast had. Shows how difficult even a simple 2 Minute scene like that can be, and how much help collaboration between director, cast and crew can give.
- 도안 (圖案, Design) [10:25]
디자인 삼척 (Samcheok Design)
The first part shows Art Director Park Sang-Hoon talking about the concept of all the locations in Samcheok. They wanted something which kept alive the sense of reality they needed to focus more on the characters, so they went location hunting for small cities. Hur says they didn't really create a specific style, but he didn't just want to go there and shoot whatever. Things like these always take a good amount of time to prepare, and since he didn't really tell the Art Director any particular style to stress on, there were a lot of things he changed himself on the spot, and things which needed to be done in a hurry. Park continues talking about what they had to do to adapt the city to what they wanted, adding snow (fake and real), and similar things. Second part shows the Poster shoot, with all the different poses Son Ye-Jin and Bae Yong-Joon took. Then, at the end, we get 5-6 Minutes of Photos. Just the photos in high-res without any graphics around, and Jo Sung-Woo's score. Nice.
- 기억 (記憶, Memory) [11:41]
사척 로케이션 (Samcheok Location)
If you ever doubted the huge popularity of Yonsama in Japan, this will show it to you. Essentially a little special about all the locations the crew shot at in Samcheok. First up is the hospital, and it's explained Hur came later to talk with the President, and arrange the shoot. The places where the film shot at are shown, including the various hallways and rooms. And, most importantly, the changes which took place after the shoot was over are shown. Then a few restaurant and bar owners around the area are interviewed, reminiscing about their experiences and business while the crew was shooting there. Here's where it gets scary: hordes of Japanese and Korean Yonsama fans waited, sometimes from the early hours of the morning, for their idol's arrival on the set, ate at the same places he ate in the film (filling walls with dedications, pictures, and the like). Looks like business went up tremendously there during the 3-4 months of shooting, as you can see pictures of the film just about everywhere. Impressive, if a little... I don't know, I have no problem with housewives loving their favourite actor, and also no problem with restaurant owners taking that opportunity to make an extra buck, based on Yonsama's image. Yet it all sounds strange. As if Bae Yong-Joon came from another world? That never happens for people like Song Kang-Ho and Choi Min-Shik, because the ooze that vitality of normal people. This felt like going to the Korean version of 'Suburbia Graceland'.
희생 (犧牲, Sacrifice)
- 삭제 장면 (Deleted Scenes) [17:58]
모두보기 (Watch All) On/Off (written in green on top) or Direct Selection
[Deleted Scene 1] - 1:37
In-Soo is outside the Motel with Seo-Young, he's throwing snowballs at the wall, like a pitcher.
In-Soo: Wanna try?
Seo-Young hesitates, then before he throws the next one she says yes.
She throws the ball, and then In-Soo throws another, this time really well. He looks at her.
In-Soo: It's cold, isn't it?
A little pointless, considering the scene coming after -- where she asks him his job -- so taking this off was a good idea.
[Deleted Scene 2] - 2:31
In-Soo is at the phone with someone, explaining where his motel was.
In-Soo: Yeah... it's the Samheung Hotel. Samheung.
After spelling out the name of the motel, he writes down something on a paper. He picks up the phone again and calls the terminal.
In-Soo: Hello? Yeah, Room no. 210.... [transfer]... I'm... Room No. 205. I'm in Seoul right now. Can you tell me your phone number?
In-Soo writes down the number.
In-Soo: Did you have lunch? Uhh... me too [or me neither, depending on what she said]. I'll call again. Thanks.
In-Soo thinks to himself, and smiles.
Without knowing the context of the scene, it's hard to comment on it. A little commentary from the director would have been useful. As it stands, this doesn't sound like anything of note, and they probably took it off because of pacing issues.
[Deleted Scene 3] - 1:18
Seo-Young looks at the window of her apartment, while it's snowing (this is earlier in the film, around the end of Winter). She keeps looking, then she goes out on the balcony.
[Deleted Scene 4] - 0:57
There's a long pan showing the sea, and it finally reveals Seo-Young and In-Soo hugging, looking at the horizon.
[Deleted Scene 5] - 2:19
These are three versions of the same deleted scene. One is a little more detached, with a medium shot taking both In-Soo and the doctor. The second focuses on In-Soo with a closeup, the third on the doctor. The doctor says that because of the accident she (In-Soo's wife) experienced a great shock, so she could continue to remain unconscious for a while. In-Soo asks about her chances of recovery, and the doctor says they'll need to wait and see, since on many cases things get worse, but frequently they get better. Nothing really necessary, as it's ancillary to the main story.
[Deleted Scene 6] - 2:06
Again, three cuts to be edited into one scene. First we see In-Soo come out to walk down the stairs, something stopping him, and after that he goes back in. The second cut shows Seo-Young crying from behind, while the third is in front of Seo-Young, and we see In-Soo's legs coming into the frame. Edited well it could have been a decent insert, but probably deleted because of time concerns.
[Deleted Scene 7] - 2:08
Seo-Young and In-Soo are walking outside. In-Soo picks up something.
In-Soo: It feels like Winter came only yesterday, but it's already Spring.
Seo-Young: It's all changed, I feel strange. A little excited, but also uncomfortable.
The shot widens, and right before the end, they hold hands. Then it ties with the scene of In-Soo staring from a roof or balcony.
[Deleted Scene 8] - 0:46
A shot of Seo-Young walking alone along the same paths of the previous scene. This could either be her going through the same path, remembering her time with In-Soo, or more likely her walking alone since In-Soo is up looking somewhere from the balcony. Again, commentary here would certainly help. There's a closeup first, then a wide shot.
[Deleted Scene 9] - 3:44
Another group of scenes to be edited together. In-Soo and Seo-Young walk into a dark room. Everything was so dark I thought it was the hospital, but they're actually entering a theater. I don't know if they do this before the film starts, and that's why there's no one else around, or because they simply had to add the rest (sound effects) later. Then we get a shot of the film screening, 꽃피는 봄이 오면 (Springtime), the Drama starring Choi Min-Shik (nice choice!). There's a shot of In-Soo and Seo-Young watching the film. And then... just as the film is nearing its end, there you go... the two kiss. Decent little scene, but again the shots are raw, without editing, soundtrack and the rest, so it's hard to judge properly.
[Deleted Scene 10] - 0:30
Seo-Young gets up after crying, looks out, and sees it's snowing.
- NG 장면 (NG Scenes) [9:00]
A collection of outtakes and NGs, some are actually from scenes which aren't in the film. There's one when Seo-Young caresses her husband's face (then drops something on him. Tears? Something else? I don't know). Another which is Seo-Young picking up the phone, from the deleted scene with In-Soo.
- 셀프 카메라 (Self Camera) [2:56]
I thought this would be one of those clips where the actors go around the set with a camcorder, but it's actually the complete video the characters look at in the film. Interesting to see it in its original size. Looks quite... real? Shot on handheld, but really gives the feeling they were using a digital camera.
화해 (和解, Reunion)
- 인사 (Greetings) [4:40]
VIP 시사회 - VIP Screening
Usual VIP screening clip, with a quick look at all the celebrities present, who sometimes give quick comments. You can see Park Shin-Yang, Yoo Ji-Tae, Gong Hyo-Jin, Song Il-Guk, Hwang Jung-Min, Jo Yi-Jin and more. Then we move to the stage with Bae Yong-Joon, Son Ye-Jin and director Hur Jin-Ho. Bae says that he wasn't this nervous even for his first film. People might feel strange hearing that from him, but he was really nervous and excited at the same time. It was something really difficult to shoot, but he hoped people would experience something special thanks to it. Son comments that this was the 9th and last place they introduced their film at, so she didn't know what to say. Shooting this film was hard, but she also spent happy times, and now is very nervous and excited about it. Finally, Hur concludes the piece hoping people will understand and relate to the characters in the film... and of course he was nervous too.
- 만남 (Meeting) [15:11]
외출 팬 미팅 (April Snow Fan Meeting)
I thought this would be one of those roundtable discussions that pop up from time to time on Korean DVDs, but it's more of an extension of the previous clip. We see all the people who came to the fan meeting screening (a day before general release) of the film, with some comments from the people there. Most of the girls say they're there because of Bae and Son, most of the guys (often speaking right after their girlfriends, making them a little embarrassed) add their curiosity about the sex scenes between Son and someone 'who doesn't really fit that image', and others are intrigued by the perspective on adultery and love the film offers. After that we move inside, for a quick introduction, and bits of the Q&A which followed the screening.
Director Hur, responding about whether what the two characters experienced was love or not, says he just hoped they could be happy. Their relationship, and the way it built up, from sharing the same emotional pain and struggle, is something that's not easy to continue. The baggage they bring with them in meeting each other is too important to talk about love or similar things. But he always wanted to let the viewer ask some questions about their future themselves. What would happen to them later? So that's another layer of interest in the film. Asked about the difficulty of portraying a married woman in this situation, Son Ye-Jin comments that she was helped by the staff around her and the director (especially the director) in finding the right tone to portray her character, as it was something she hadn't previously experienced. Bae comments that, while there isn't much dialogue in the film, most of what's said has a meaning.
Hur says that one of the most important things which directed his attention to this problem was the irony of adultery. The way relationships like that develop vis-a-vis 'proper' relationships and their formulae. The relationship In-Soo and Seo-Young experience is something they can't help but fall into, it's not driven by any sentiment he could easily explain. They form their own adultery, following their rules. Again about adultery, Bae comments that the situation (his wife having an accident, and discovering her affair) would be too shocking for him to do anything like that, but he could relate to how In-Soo approached the matter. He can't help but fall for her, even though he never acknowledges it as being love. He argues that In-Soo never loved to begin with, he didn't know about that sentiment even with his wife. Even having sex with Seo-Young, he thinks about a variety of things, like their future together, what that act means for them, and more. There's more introductions to the public (nice how Bae asks the public's reaction after the film, and there's more or less silence), and we close the clip with S' song (the project group formed by KangTa, Shin Hye-Sung of Shinhwa and Lee Ji-Hoon), part of the soundtrack.
- 재회 (Reunion) [4:01]
중앙시네마 (Joongang Cinema) - 11/8/05
This is really nice. Basically a bunch of Bae Yong-Joon fans (from his official fanclub in Korea, people from Japan, etc.) reunited in November at the Joongang Cinema to watch the film again, and this is a clip showing the event. The best thing about it is that Clazziquai's 'Stepping Out' plays loudly throughout the entire clip, only stopping for a few comments, so you'll hear their wonderful sound. They're one of the bands appearing in the film's concert (which also features excellent pop-rock band Loveholic, and also a Leessang -- the hip hop band member of the Movement Crew -- cameo earlier in the film). They've taken the Korean lounge pop scene by storm in the last two years, and are one of the most exciting, inventive groups in all of Asian Music. After the screenings, a few people comment: there's a Korean who's been a fan of Bae Yong-Joon for 11 long years, a Japanese woman and her mother, who comments on watching the film in Korean after watching the dubbed Japanese version (and then her mother goes crazy with inspirational slogans like 배용준 아자아자! 화이팅!) and so on.
여백 (餘白, Blank)
- 뮤직 비디오 (Music Video) [4:26]
길 (Road) by Woo Sung-Min
Ahhh... those marketing folks. I always thought Music Videos could do magic, much more than Trailers, if done right. Or least done in an honest way, which doesn't betray the feeling of the film. I'd say this is not a bad M/V, but it makes 'April Snow' look like an Erotic Drama. A good two Minutes of the entire Video are spent showing all the sex scenes in the film, pushing it as something it isn't. I doubt Director Hur would be happy with something like this, but it was probably out of his hands. Written and arranged by the great Jo Sung-Woo, it's no surprise this main theme sung by Woo Sung-Min is nice. Sounds like a sort of mix between folk singer 하림 (Harim) -- in style -- and more traditional ballad singers like Lee Seung-Cheol or Shin Seung-Hoon -- in tone. Nice and all, but doesn't sell the film right. In fact, 'April Snow' flopped in Korea, and publicity like this helped fuel the media hunger for sex, which was one of the first thing the 'mainstream' media complained about when talking about this film.
- 예고편 (Theatrical Trailer) [1:49]
Not a bad trailer. It keeps the sexual element to an hint (which is just the tone used in the film), covers the major issues without spoiling too much, and conveys the mood of the film pretty well. It's much harder to do Trailers for films like 'April Snow' than, say, a comedy or even a Park Chan-Wook film. What do you focus on? What are the selling points (except the obvious, the cast) of film like these? It's not an easy question to answer, and you only have 2 Minutes to do so. This does it pretty well.
- TV Spot [0:32]
Quite good. Being something for TV, the sexual hints are kept to a minimum, but I'd argue that was their intention. In the space of 30 seconds, it introduces the main theme, and tries to show the 'transformation' the two actors went through with the film.
Sturdy, really nice looking package holding the two-disc digipack and the booklet. I really like these new enterOne slipcases, they look great on the shelves put together, and are some of the most stylish in Korea. As for the digipacks, the new holders they're using are a little harder to get used to than the old 'Amaray push' ones, but they're not as complicated as CJ's new ones (which risk ruining the disc if you don't know the right way to push them). Great artwork and style. The booklet is a beauty: pretty long, with lots of nice looking photos, some interviews, production notes and more. A nice read, and tremendously well produced.
enterOne strikes back. Just making 2-3 hours of supplements for a film I didn't like enjoyable shows with what passion they produce these DVDs. The extras on this release are fantastic, so much they almost changed my mind about the film. Almost. I don't think this film will do anything to Hur Jin-Ho's career, as I still consider him one of the brightest lights in Chungmuro. I just think he was a (willing or not, that's something only he knows) participant of this marketing machine, and nothing more. Given to a better leading cast -- I'm thinking a Hwang Jung-Min or Lee Byung-Heon and Kim Ji-Soo couple would work fine -- this film could be another of Hur's great achievements. But, although Son Ye-Jin showed some improvement, Yonsama's shadow is so strong it overpowers (or should I say 'takes off every emotion) the entire film. A shame, really, since it has all the elements to work, but lacks that final icing on the cake, the performances that can carry all that promising material.
EXTRA FEATURES 9
VALUE FOR MONEY 8
AVERAGE: (Film Rating is counted twice) 7.14
너는 내 운명 (You Are My Sunshine), Park Jin-Pyo 2005
형사 (Duelist), Lee Myung-Se 2005
사랑니 (Blossom Again), Jung Ji-Woo 2005
나의 결혼 원정기 (Wedding Campaign), Hwang Byung-Guk 2005
내 생애 가장 아름다운 일주일 (All For Love), Min Gyu-Dong 2005
Korean DVD Roundup Ep. 2 - November-December 2005, January 2006