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Gaeul donghwa (2000)
Endless Love (A tale of Autumn/ Gaeul donghwa) is the first soap opera to elicit an emotional response from this reviewer. Soaps are the usual target for mockery due to the presence of bad acting, lame plots and even lamer dialogue. Endless Love, however, managed to overcome these weaknesses. It stands as one of the best soap operas I've ever seen.
It's the story of Joon Suh (Song Seung Hun) and Eun Suh (Song Hye Kyo), who for 14 years believed themselves to be blood-siblings. They share a close bond as shown in the scenes of their happy and idyllic childhood. Yet an accident when Eun Suh was only 14 revealed that she was actually switched at birth with another baby. Her real family is composed of a single mother and a rascal brother living in the throes of poverty. The daughter (Shinae) who lives with that poor family is Joon Suh's real blood sister. After some dramatic scenes, the two daughters are switched back to their real families. Joon Suh's family leaves for the States as a way to start over while Eun Suh stays behind with her poor mother and grows up terribly missing her brother. Eight years later, Joon Suh returns to Korea in search for Eun Suh. They meet again via JoonSuh's best friend, Tae Sukh, who also happens to be attracted to Eun Suh. The two former siblings are deliriously happy to be reunited, but complications take place as they realize that they are falling in love with each other. Joon Suh is already engaged to Yumei, while Eun Suh has just "accepted" Tae Sukh's declarations of "love". To make matters worse, their parents cannot accept a romantic relationship between them as they still see Eun Suh and Joon Suh as siblings. These complications drive the plot to an ending that will surely melt even the stoniest of hearts.
Despite its predictable storyline, it still succeeds in conveying sincere emotions, largely due to the chemistry of the two leads, Song Seung Hun and Song Hye Gyo.
Song Seung Hun in particular, was amazing in the role of the strong and honorable Joon-Suh (Johnny). It was a character that barely had any speaking lines yet Seung Hun hit every emotional note required for the scene. His expressive face (particularly his gorgeous eyes) clearly conveyed all of his character's conflicting emotions: his love for En Suh (jenny), his respect for his parents and his affection for his friends. Everything about his acting is restrained, yet he never comes off stiff or wooden. He projected strength and vulnerability without resorting to exagerrated theatrics common amongst young actors. It's definitely an amazing performance which sets him apart from his peers. There is no doubt in my mind that only Seung Hun, with his talent and maturity, could have played this challenging role. The other actors in the movie simply played their characters in a stereotypical manner that doesn't stand out, but doesn't disappoint either.
The story is also wonderful in that it is different from the usual American love story. It teaches us that lovers do not exist for themselves alone. The characters of Joon-Suh and En Suh love each other deeply, yet they also can't bear seeing everyone around them suffer. As such, they sacrifice their own happiness just to keep their families and friends satisfied. With such sacrifice, the audience cannot help but root for the two underdog lovers.
Top it off with beautiful cinematography and sentimental music and the audience is defintely set for an emotional experience with this series. Take my advice, this series is for keeps. It's bound to become an Asian classic. In fact, I think it already is.
A Walk to Remember (2002)
Surprisingly Moving and Touching
Yeah, yeah...the storyline's been done before. Even some of the dialogue sound familiar. And yes, the score at the end dripped with too much melodrama to be effective.
But you know what, despite all that, the movie still works. It had me, and a good number of the audience, teary eyed at the appropriate moments. It had me smiling like a dork in the joyous moments of the film.
For me, what made this movie so effective was the performance and chemistry of the leads, Shane West and Mandy Moore. They made celluloid romance look real and sincere. Their emotions and feelings were palpable. The film and the actors gave one of the best depictions of real love. There is maturity and innocence in their actions. And that's what makes this movie different from other run-of-the-mill romance movies.
Mandy Moore really surprised me at how effective she was in conveying Jamie's innocence and strength of character. Her sweet face and graceful manner make her almost otherworldy, but she still manages to reach out to the viewers and tug at their emotions as if she was someone they knew all their life. I believe we'll be seeing more of Mandy in Hollywood which I think is a good thing.
Shane West is another revelation. He had the difficult task of showing Landon's growth from aimless youth to self-assured adult capable of self-less love. And he pulled it off. His subtle performance made Landon's transformation believable and does not suffer a single awkward moment. Like Mandy, I hope we see more of Mr.West in Hollywood.
Others have complained that the story is too squeaky clean and it's totally impossible that two teeners could be so controlled when it came to sex. Well, guess what...there are responsible teen-agers out there. They just don't get enough attention since most of Hollywood think that only sex will sell to a young audience. The box-office performance of "A Walk To Remember" certainly disproves that. Young people, adults and grannies alike enjoyed this movie. It's about time that Hollywood showed another kind of teenager. The kind that you can admire.
As for the comments that this one was just another "Prety-ugly-girl" movie where the heroine is just waiting for a make-over...well, I don't know what movie you were watching but "Walk" was definitely not it. Jamie was never ugly to begin with. She just didn't dress right and did things that were "unusual" for other kids. All that branded her as an outcast. And where is it written that being pretty ensured popularity in High School? That's a fallacy. Lots of pretty girls in high school but they weren't popular since they didn't have the right friends, the right clothes, the flashy attitude or other things that made one popular. The Jamie character was that kind of pretty girl. She had the pretty face but had a strong sense of self to not be concerned with superficial things. Again, that's what made her different. And she never had a make-over in the movie! She stayed true to herself til the end.
Congratulations to Shane, Mandy and the filmmakers of A Walk To Remember! It was a risky move to go against the mainstream of sex and violence in films. But judging from the user comments in this site, you guys did the right thing. This is simply one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.
P.S. The soundtrack is excellent as well. Listening to it brings back images from the movie and one can't help but be emotional when hearing the tracks.