The novels of Takuji Ichikawa are well known to numerous book lovers. His bestselling works have been adapted for the Japanese silver screen a couple of times; Be With You in 2004 by Nobuhiro Doi, and Heavenly Forest in 2006 by Takehiko Shinjo. The film adaptation of Be With You became a huge commercial success with its imaginative, beautiful and emotional love story and although it was imbued with a deliberate manipulation of emotions, it made for an unforgettable experience, from the first seconds of the film and until the end credits rolled. 14 years after the premiere of the Japanese adaptation, Lee Jang-hoon in 2018 released his own version of Be With You, starring So Ji-sub and Son Ye-jin.
Woo-jin (So Ji-sub: The Throne, The Battleship Island) has lost his wife Soo-ah (Son Ye-jin: The Last Princess, The Truth Beneath) and is now dealing with being the single parent to his young son Jo-ho (Kim Ji-hwan). The widower struggles a lot, but gives his best despite having a debilitating disease that often affects his mobility. Before the first anniversary of Soo-ah’s death, Jo-ho becomes more and more excited; due to a story his mother told him, he believes that when the rain season arrives, his mother will return from Cloudland, a mysterious and spiritual place for those who passed away, but haven’t crossed over to heaven yet. Understandably, Woo-jin is skeptical, but he lets Jo-ho to keep on hoping.
When the rainy days finally come, the boy and his father surprisingly end up running into a women who looks exactly like Soo-ah, and who seems to suffer from amnesia. Encouraged by her appearance, they take the woman home and slowly help her recover her memory. Happiness returns to their home, and Soo-ah resumes her role as a wife and mother. Woo-jin, in an attempt to help his wife regain her memories, recollects the story of how they met and fell in love. However, no good thing lasts forever and everyone believes that when the rain season ends, Soo-ah will leave again – and this time, forever…
Since I myself have not read the novel, the only thing I can compare the new production with is the 2004 production; and like the Japanese film, the Korean version is endowed with an irresistible, albeit simple charm. Unfortunately, Lee Jang-hoon’s film somewhat lacks in depth, the depth that – when watching Nobuhiro Doi’s work – melted the most resistant of hearts. That said, Be With Youis an ode to love; the love between a man and a wife – and parental love. This was nicely depicted in Lee’s film, and it was made even more credible thanks to the great performances from So Ji-sub and Son Ye-jin.
Son Ye-jin is at the heart of the film; the gorgeous actress exudes strength and grace, making the character of Soo-ah alive as she discovers the unbreakable bond that everyone wants to experience or possess. The young Jo-ho (Kim Ji-hwan) is a darling, a child whose sincere actions, appropriate for any kid at the elementary school age, melt the audiences hearts; Kim Ji-hwan channels that the longing of a child knows no limits and shows a character whose spirit will inevitably have to be admired.
So Ji-sub portrays a kind soul, aware of his own incapacity, who in the name of love tries to give everything he has. The great merit of So Ji-sub’s performance makes us believe that it is always possible to do something more for the people you love; he is completely authentic in the role of a father and a husband.
Cinematography by Cho Sang-yun is stunning; the camera work exhibits the beautiful colours of nature, including those that paint the dark rainy days. The score by Bang Jun-seok (The Battleship Island, Anarchist from Colony) creates the mood of the film as well, but is not used to the fullest.
There is an important life lesson to be drawn from the film – just like from the Japanese version: it is vital to value every second that we spend with the people we truly love. Without a doubt, Be With You is a subtle and poignant work from the first-time director Lee Jang-hoon.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Lotte Entertainment