Jung-Won (Han Suk-kyu), a man in his early thirties, lives with his father (Shin Ku) and owns a small photo shop and studio on the outskirts of Seoul. His clients comes mainly from the neighborhood, i.e. the middle school students who ask for enlargement of their favorite girl(s) from a class photo, the elderly woman who wants to have her portrait taken for the funeral picture, and the young girl who wants to have her picture redone because the hair wasn't stylish enough.
Jung-Won is content with his daily life and has no reason to fear death, even though he has undergone some medical test. When Jung-Won learns his time is limited, he doesn't succumb to fear or self pity, but remains his smiling and joyful self, except he have concerns for how his father will operate technical devices among other things the VCR.
Only his family knows of his condition, and when an old flame comes by and tells him she heard from his sister (Oh Ji-Hye) that he's serious ill, he laughs it off and discovers in the process that they no longer have anything in common.
After returning to the shop after attending the funeral of a friend, a Car Parking Officer (Shim Eun-Ha) asks Jung-Won to do a rush job for her. After initial asking her to come back, he agrees to develop the film while she waits outside. While the film is being processed, his manners takes the best of him and he offers her an apology for his rudeness and an ice cream in the heat.
Afterwards she frequently comes by with photo jobs of parking offenders, and they run into each other different places in the area. Her name is Darim, and in her early twenties. She is taken with him and he begins slowly to warm up to her, but ...
It was the first movie I was aware was Korean. I saw it at a film festival back in 1999. (On a side note: The first Korean movie I did see was Lee Chang-Dong's "Green Fish", but at the time - 1998 - I thought it was from Singapore).
Since it's been a while since I saw it last, I knew I had to see it again in order to write this review. I also thought it would make an excellent test to see if it had stood the test of time, or whether I would enjoy it as I did the first two-three times I had seen the movie.
"Christmas in August" does stand the test of time, it may even be better this time around. Small details - that I either forgot or didn't notice the first times around - gave an extreme sense of appreciation for the debut feature of Hur Jin-Ho. Also the added life experience makes me appreciate the film more this time (sort of like being able to see the horses in Harry Potter - Potter fans will know what I am babbling about).
"Christmas in August" is a strong ensemble driven movie. Both leads Han Suk-kyu and Shim Eun-Ha deliver subtle and powerful performances as Jung-Won and Darim. The rest of the characters are despite their often little screen time appropriately flashed-out, you really don't need to know more, as the chemistry unfolds between our lead actors. It is not unfounded that they were the most popular actors (and perhaps the greatest) in South Korea at the time.
Hur Jin-Ho created one of the finest and most subtle portrayals of the subject of death I have seen on celluloid (still), and unlike Hollywood he doesn't shy away from the inevitable. He also manages to portray suburban life in Korea with his small almost vignettes stories of the people visiting Jung-Won's photoshop.
In conclusion the movie still moves me, and I even like it better now than before. From the people I have met who has seen this movie, including Koreans, I found that it also struck a chord with them regardless of age. I can only recommend it.
A NOTE ON THE DVDs AVAILABLE:
Despite practice here at ShuQi.org I have included a note of the various DVD versions of the movie. The Korean DVD (either the limited release or the regular release) is the one to own. Despite what is recommended on comparedvd.net, the Hong Kong release is not quite the same standard as the Korean release. Comparedvd.net suggests that the 5.1 mix is to be preferred over the original 2.0 mix for the Korean DVD, but the 5.1 sound mix is in effect a 4.0 mix with most going on in the front and center channels. This film never had very strong rear channels. The Korean version is also anamorphic and sourced from a vastly better print, though, at the beginning of third or fourth reel the sourceprint has taken some beating.