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Movie critique: The Summer (directed by Han Ji-won, 2023)
Movie critique: The Summer (directed by Han Ji-won, 2023)

Movie critique: The Summer (directed by Han Ji-won, 2023)

Han Ji-won’s artwork is easily noticeable at the 19th Seoul Indie-Anifest. Her vibrant pastel illustrations can be seen on brochures and tote bags throughout the event. This widespread presence set her up for success at the screening of her new movie, “The Summer.” On Saturday evening, crowds flocked to theaters in hopes of seeing her film based on Choi Eun-young’s novel of the same name.

“The Summer” will be shown at Seoul Indie-Anifest.

“Summer” captures the nostalgic and dreamy atmosphere of young love. The story follows Lee-Kyeong (voiced by Yoon Ah-young) as she reminisces about her first love, Soo-i (Song Ha-rim). Despite their contrasting personalities – Lee-Kyeong being reserved and studious, while Soo-i dreams of becoming a professional soccer player – the two find themselves drawn to each other. Amidst the idyllic summer setting of the countryside, they share sweet words and secret kisses. As they approach graduation, they imagine a future together in the bustling city of Seoul.

By the time they reach the city at twenty years old, they come to the realization that their once tightly bound fates are slowly coming apart. Lee-Kyeong’s focus on university and Soo-i’s odd jobs, along with their conflicting personalities and new group of friends, causes them to drift further apart. As the cracks in their relationship deepen, they eventually reach a point of no return.

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Upon initial observation, “The Summer” evokes earlier Japanese creations. Similar to “Nana” (2006-2007), the film takes place in the early 2000s and depicts a wistful lesbian romance as the narrator looks back on cherished memories with her partner. Additionally, like Makoto Shinkai’s previous works, “5 Centimeters per Second” and “Garden of Words,” “The Summer” delves into similar themes. A sense of longing for the past permeates through these films, lamenting the missed connection between two passing ships. This is heightened by Han Ji-won and Shinkai’s dedication to showcasing the haunting beauty of their respective cities. Just as Shinkai meticulously portrays Shinjuku Gyoen, Han Ji-won incorporates recognizable alleyways and train stations of the sprawling metropolis of Seoul in her film. Thus, “The Summer” serves as both a declaration of love to Seoul and an ode to youthful infatuation.

Han Ji-won’s work differs from her Japanese predecessors in that it focuses more on direct moments of conflict rather than poetic contemplation. Instead of questioning the past and reasons for breakups, Han Ji-won’s characters experience obvious moments of tension. In contrast to the ambiguous relationships in other works, “The Summer” has more clearly defined sexual tensions. Unlike the fluid sexuality of “Nana,” Lee-Kyeong is confident in her attractions and does not question her identity. She is empowered by her own choices rather than being influenced by societal norms. Han Ji-won’s characters are independent and follow their own paths rather than being swayed by societal expectations.

This film offers a refreshing take on the coming-of-age and queer experience. Instead of following the common trope of a protagonist searching for love or dealing with bullying, we see the protagonist, Lee-Kyeong, exploring their desires and seeking fulfillment in various relationships. While homosexual attraction is a part of Lee-Kyeong’s journey, the film focuses more on the universal struggle of youth to find meaning and fulfill their desires. Lee-Kyeong searches for guidance and companionship from the women in her life while also trying to maintain distance from her partner.

If “The Summer” were to be released on a streaming platform in the future, it would be a perfect choice for a relaxing night in. Similar to a made-for-TV movie, “The Summer” has a brief runtime of 88 minutes. However, it would be even more enjoyable if it were longer – but that could also leave space for another future project by Han Ji-won.