Review: A Moment to Remember (2004) Fully Commits and Embraces its Melodramatic Nature

a moment to remember
*Attention! Spoilers*
Kim Su-jin (Son Ye-jin), a gorgeous, young woman is stood up by her lover (Baek Jong-hak), who was supposed to pick her up at the station. Heartbroken and tired, she walks into a random convenience store, buys a coke and decides to walk home. A couple seconds after she leaves the store, she realizes that she forgot her coke inside the store. At the door she meets a handsome, rugged young man (Jung Woo-sung) holding a coke in his hand. She just assumes it’s hers. He opens the can. She takes the soda from him, chugs it down her throat and burps in his face: It’s the beginning of a beautiful love story. 

A Moment to Remember (original title: 내 머리 속의 지우개, romanized: Nae Meorisogui Jiugae, which literally means: “Eraser in my head”) is a sappy South Korean melodrama, about a 27-year-old woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s an incredibly sad and tender story, that made me tear up quite a bit, to the point where I even had to pause it, because I couldn’t read the subtitles anymore. I rarely go for this type of films, but for some strange reason I was in the mood to watch this yesterday, knowing full and well that I would probably cry like a baby. The whole film is designed to make you weep, and guess what: It works.

The first act of the film is all about setting up the perfect romantic scenery: Girl meets boy, they fall in love, everything is perfect. In the second act you start to see how Su-jin’s condition starts to progressively get worse. The first stages of Alzheimer’s are played for laughs and make the character of Su-jin seem even cuter and more adorable than she already is, but then, as the disease gets worse it’s just one sad scene after the other. Why is it so sad though? Does the film work as a melodrama? What make this such an emotional roller coaster? What does the film have to say about memory loss? And why all the glaring product placement?

Son Ye-jin gives a solid performance as Kim Su-jin, the female lead of the film. It’s unlike any other performance I’ve seen in a Korean film, which kind of makes sense, because I haven’t seen any other Korean films about Alzheimer’s. From the start she is incredibly sweet, delicate and innocent, possibly a bit naive and definitely always with her head in the clouds. She’s rarely focussed, but she’s always spontaneous and kind and as a male viewer I have to say that I easily fell for her. Whether a girl like this exists or not is another question, but in the reality of the film she made perfect sense.

On the other hand you have Jung Woo-sung, playing the male protagonist: Choi Chul-soo. You could say he’s the polar opposite of Sun-jin. He’s kind of a brutish and violent man with a temper. He doesn’t care about his physical appearance that much, which makes their romance a sort of Beauty and the Beast story. Of course though, he has a good heart and all his rage and hate comes from a difficult childhood. He’s not as successful or rich as Su-jin, but he’s a smart, intelligent man. Chul-soo is ambitious and dreams of becoming an architect, so he’s also a bit of an artist. In short: The perfect man.

a-moment-to-remember-2

By establishing these archetypal (not to say cliché) characters, the film immediately sets up what you can expect from it. And if its premise wasn’t heartbreaking or devastating enough for you: The over-dramatic and melancholic soundtrack and score should do the trick. I wasn’t a fan of the Spanish-language music used, but I was happy to hear an Italian song. What I found interesting about A Moment to Remember is that while many scenes feel cliché a lot of the couple’s relationship “milestones” they could have played-up were actually only shown in passing (first kiss, marriage, first time etc.).

There might not be a whole lot going on visually in this film, aside from some annoying cinematography, where they basically painted a purple sky, but there’s one shot I truly loved. As a fan of extreme close-ups, there was one scene where the couple is lying on the floor in Chul-soo’s apartment. The whole screen is just filled with the actors’ faces and you can hear them breathing. I think it’s perfect, because it doesn’t only show how close the two are to each other, but it also brings us, the audience, closer to them and to what they’re feeling and experiencing.

As the film progresses and dwells deeper into the disease, I appreciated how it dealt with memory loss. Granted, it doesn’t show you anything ugly or truly problematic, aside from the young woman progressively forgetting everything. However some great drama comes from that, when she confuses her husband with her ex-lover. A truly devastating scene is when she calls him with her ex’s name and tells him that she loves him. The memory loss aspect is also used to make a comment on how we build everything on our memory (our persona and personality, our relationships etc.). What are we without our memory?

To quote the film: “When a memory is gone, so is the soul, they say”. There are more great lines like this one, that border on cheesiness, but are interesting, because they’re based on Korean folklore and wisdom. So maybe to a Korean viewer they’re horrid clichés, but to a rather inexpert European viewer, such as myself, they still hold some insights (if nothing else cultural ones). Another very Korean thing about this film was the product placement. You normally wouldn’t expect it in a drama, but from what I know Korean people are extremely brand aware and so it makes sense here. I just found it a bit “exotic”.

Towards the end the film gets a little too cocky and even attempts a happy ending, like a riding off into the sunset type of thing. For real. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That was a bit to much. I liked how they showed that Sun-jin remembers that one special moment when she meets Chul-soo. It was sweet, romantic and touching and everything they wanted it to be. It was perfect. I know you don’t want to leave your viewers with a sad image, but unfortunately, they don’t live happily ever after. It only gets worse. I appreciate the film for fully committing and embracing its melodramatic nature, but again, that was a bit too much.

All in all, I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed A Moment to Remember. I think if you like South Korean dramas, you’ll love this one. Also, and not that they’re my cup of tea, but I was reminded a bit of Nicholas Sparks‘ work, so if you enjoy his books (or the films they’ve made base on them), I’m pretty sure you’ll love this one. Other than that if you’re a bit like me, a little curious and want to see what a South Korean melodrama looks like: This is one of the most recommended and highly rated of its sub-genre. I certainly recommend checking out this film, just make sure you’re in the right mood for it.

7.5 out of 10

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