Surprisingly, last year was fairly fruitful for the female filmmakers in South Korea. Most of their films – perhaps slightly unappreciated by the mainstream cinema critics – have been cherished by many film goers. One of those films is Will You Be There?, the first adaptation of Guillaume Musso’s 2006 bestselling novel with the same title, directed by Hong Ji-young, who is well known for her films such as Modern Family, Marriage Blue and The Necked Kitchen.
It has been said that the French author previously rejected suggestions for a film adaptation from Europe and L.A and only gave the green light to Hong Ji-young, trusting her to come up with an interesting motion picture. The director has in fact neatly laid out a melodramatic plot to create a gripping and unputdownable film, starring Kim Yoon-seok (The Priests, Classified Files) in the lead role of a 60-year-old esteemed surgeon who, after returning from doing a volunteering work in Asia, experiences unexplained – at first – time travels.
Before returning to Korea, Soo-hyun (Kim Yoon-seok) selflessly operates on a little child. In return for his help, the child’s grandfather gives the doctor a mysterious bottle with pills and – indirectly – promises to grant Soo-hyun’s wish; the man’s wish is to see the love of his life, Yeon-A (Chae Seo-jin). The problem is, the woman died 30 years ago; however, the bottle of pills provides the means to see her – they enable him to travel back in time.
Will You Be There? alternates between the years of 2015 and 1985. The short and quick-paced scenes show Soo-hyun as a 30-year-old (Byun Yo-han: Madonna, Phantom Detective), confronting his older self. Their first encounter is unexpectedly humorous and both actors delivered it well.
While travelling back and forward, Soo-hyun learns that he has terminal cancer. Now that he has not much time left, but has a chance to save Yeon-A, he tries to do so. However, Soo-hyun has some reservations as he acknowledges that changing the past might change the present; the present in which he has a 20-year-old daughter Soo-A (Park Hye-soo) with another woman, Illeana (Kim Hyo-jin). He comes up with a clever plan to save not only his lover, but also his future daughter. But will the plan work? Will Soo-hyun warn himself about the sickness? The film makes you ask yourself the question: If you could go back in time, would you do things differently? I really do not know the answer, as every experience I have had made me the person I am today.
I have to admit that the film’s narrative is clear and easy to follow. It is also occasionally moving and generally interesting. Will You Be There? is well written and directed; it will keep you in suspense till – almost – the end of it. The book itself gives a different picture on the idea of time travelling, and Hong Ji-young conveys it effectively in the film.
Will You Be There? is also a film about regrets in life from the perspective of time. Time travel is not only a source of action and tension due to unforeseen consequences, but most of all it causes- from time to time – a complex confrontation between the experienced, resigned, older Soo-hyun who has reconciled himself with his fate, and his younger self, who is impulsive and not at all concerned about the future. To the young Soo-hyun, the time he lives in is significant. Although playing the same character, Kim Yoon-seok becomes a teacher to Byun Yo-han. It was interesting to see how both characters tried to resolve their similar issues; Kim and Byun surely created an interesting character within a character.
Will You Be There? is a different kind of film when you look at its genre; it is an interesting fantasy drama; that said, you must embrace yourself as this motion picture is long – slightly too long. But I guess that is what normally happens when filmmakers adapt books into film; they always kind of lose themselves in the length of their own films. All in all, Will You Be There? is a good film without any insane CGI, over-emotional and over-theatrical performances. The main actors’ portrayal of Soo-hyun is, without a doubt, an excellent one. Hong Ji-young did a decent job in making yet another engaging feature.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Lotte Entertainment