April Snow Review
Hur Jin-ho’s previous two films showed a director with a sense of Ozu-like simplicity and accuracy in his treatment of relationships, demonstrating a feel for the subtleties and graduations of mood and emotion - particularly those emotions involving loss and heartbreak. April Snow manages to capture very well that same sense of fragile understated melodrama, but if you have seen Christmas In August or One Fine Spring Day, you will have seen all this before and you will have seen it done much better.
When he receives news that his wife has been in a car accident and is lying in hospital, seriously ill in a coma, concert lighting engineer In-su (Bae Yong-joon) comes to the sickening realisation that she was having an affair with the man who was the passenger in the car with her. Difficult as this revelation is to deal with, it is made all the more awkward by the proximity of the other man, also badly injured and in a coma at the same hospital. The man’s wife, Seo-young (Son Yae-jin), at her husband’s bedside, also has to come to terms with the situation. Drawn together by their shared circumstances, In-su and Seo-young become close and have an affair together, seeking solace and perhaps revenge on their unfaithful partners.
April Snow successfully sustains a sense of melancholy and loss that simultaneously intensifies and tempers any brief moment of happiness that could exist for its characters, but it fails to see the director make any significant progress from his two previous films. Rather it sees Hur Jin-ho retread over old ground without any real conviction, almost to the point of self-parody. Even the title April Snow plays on the same bittersweet incongruous evocation of the seasons as Christmas in August and One Fine Spring Day. Here, Seo-young’s love of the Spring is contrasted against In-su’s love of Winter, reflecting the incompatibility of their outlooks and the improbability, given the circumstances, of their union – impossible that is until the inevitable fall of snow in April shows them otherwise.
And basically, there is little of any greater depth to the film than this. The first half hour of the film alone tells us little more than the fact that the two principal characters have been cheated on by their partners, dwelling on their shared predicament by having them constantly pass each other in the street, at the hotel where they are both staying on opposite sides of the corridor to each other, at the hospital and even at a pharmacy, where both go to get pills to help them sleep. The film advances the story no further than this and neither does the tone or the acting show any great shading or variation in the mood.
And it is at this point where the relationship is developing between In-su and Seo-young that April Snow should move to another level, to capture the complexity of their feelings for each other that is propelled and simultaneously held back by their confused feelings for their partners who they love yet have been betrayed by – and with those partners in a coma, they are unable to obtain the explanations and redress they require. Unfortunately, the circumstances for In-su and Seo-young are too identical and equal for it to be the source of any real attraction or conflict between them. It was the genuine inequality in the relationships in Christmas in August and One Fine Spring Day that allowed these films to explore the differing degrees by which couples fall in and out of love. Here there is no such complexity – the film offering nothing more than their preference for different seasons as a reason why their relationship might falter or contrast. The need for revenge is tentatively introduced, but the same intensity of feeling that pushed One Fine Spring Day into such difficult territory and made it such compelling viewing is missing here. In April Snow both In-su and Seo-young recognise the futility of any kind of vengeful action and both enter into their affair at the same time with the same sense of hesitancy and doubt about their purpose. The resultant bedroom scenes consequently show little of any real passion, intensity or ambiguity – just the coupling of two beautiful bodies in almost airbrushed glamour perfection.
These flaws in April Snow however, only really show up when you have seen what Hur Jin-ho is already capable of. Otherwise, with its eye-candy actors, this is not a difficult film to watch. Dialogue is minimal (and it has to be said often very bad – does Seo-young really say “What will become of us?” when they are lying together in bed at one point? And does the viewer really need a radio weather report to alert you to the significance of the incongruous weather conditions at the end of the film?), but on the unspoken level it fares much better, the film floating past with an assured sense of pace in its subliminal progression of the narrative. The viewer is held in a trance-like state by its pitch-perfect mood and beautifully blank characters that never let you stop to think by scarcely allowing a ripple of interest, excitement or even boredom impinge upon the proceedings.
The Korean edition of April Snow is presented by EnterOne in a typically smartly packaged 2-disc Limited Edition, the discs held in a digipack within a solid hardback slipcase. The set also includes a full-colour 50 page booklet with lots of photographs, containing text Production Notes and Interviews, but in Korean only. The DVDs are in NTSC format and encoded for Region 3.
The film, presented anamorphically at a ratio of 1.85:1, comes in a typically fine transfer from EnterOne and perhaps even better than usual with few of the artefacting problems that are usually the only real issue with their transfers. They are still there to some extent – there is a certain flatness and lack of detail in blacks, some evidence of edge enhancement and some minor judder in movement, but in a film where there is not a great deal of movement, none of these issues are overly significant. The image is largely stable, mostly free from macro-blocking artefacts, showing superb colour definition, clarity and sharpness. There are no marks or scratches on a flawless print.
The audio tracks, a choice of Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 are similarly strong and appropriately designed for the film, holding the silent passages well, opening out slightly when required and demonstrating its strengths in the variety of music in the original score and in the clips of concert performances where In-su operates the lighting rig.
English subtitles are provided for the feature film only, but not for the commentary or any of the extra features on the second disc in the set. The subtitles are in white font and are excellent, with no grammatical or spelling issues.
Apart from the full-length Commentary on Disc One, the remainder of the substantial amount of extra features are contained on Disc 2 of the Special Edition. All of the extra features are in Korean and none have subtitles of any kind.
The Making section, presented anamorphically at 16:9 is divided into three parts – Part 1 (19:32) covering the period before filming, containing interviews with cast and crew, testing the wardrobe for the characters and doing any necessary photography, such as the characters' wedding photographs. This section culminates in the opening ceremony for the commencement of filming. Part 2 (29:55) shows the behind the scenes of the filming, again interspersed by interviews with the cast and crew. There are a few deleted romantic scenes in here. Part 3 (23:20) covers the filming of the concert scene at the end of the film and looks, I think, at the sound engineering.
The Image section is divided into four parts. Range (13:29) focuses on the characters of In-su and Seo-young, Rehearsal (11:43) shows the director working with the cast on the funeral scene. Design (10:24) shows how a look and feel for the film was established in location and set details and in promo still photography. A slideshow stills gallery (10:04) is also included here, which is lovely, if you can stand the rather slushy music from the soundtrack, and don't mind what amounts to little more than portrait photography of the two leads. Most of this part can be watched without the need for subtitles. Memory (11:41) revisits the hotel, hospital, restaurant and coffee shop locations in the small town where the film was made.
The Sacrifice section contains 10 time-coded Deleted Scenes (17:59). Most of them are silent pieces, but a few have dialogue. It’s difficult to work out what their significance is or why they were cut, but none of them seem at all essential. An NG Reel (8:59) showing outtakes and mistakes is of even less interest – likewise the Camera footage (2:55) found on In-su’s wife’s camera, betraying her affair, is also shown in full here just for completeness.
Reunion shows the film at various premieres and screenings with speeches and post-screening Q&A sessions - the first (4:40) seems to be a press screening, the second (15:10) for the public, the third (4:01) in Japan, where it seems to go down a treat with middle-aged Japanese ladies.
The Blank section contains the obligatory soppy Music Video (4:26) which shows that the alto sax solo is alive and well in K-pop. The Trailer (1:49) makes the film seem a little more tense and dramatic than it really is, while the cut-down version in the Teaser (0:49) is positively angst-ridden.
April Snow is a beautifully paced film that picks out a particular situation that two people have found themselves thrown into and sustains the progress of their relationship through a delicate evocation of mood, rather than performance or characterisation or even any sense of why we should really care about whether they stay together or not. That we do care to some degree is down to the skill with which the director chooses his situations and plays them out. This might just be enough if we weren’t already aware that Hur Jin-ho is capable of much more complexity and fineness of detail in depicting emotional states. Following Christmas in August and One Fine Spring Day however, April Snow can only be seen as a disappointment. There are no such reservations with the Special Edition DVD release from EnterOne, which comes with a marvellous transfer, English subtitles and an enormous selection of extra features, some of which are still worth looking through despite their lack of subtitles.
Last updated: 30/04/2018 19:53:56