Remember You (Nareul Itjimarayo)

Korea (2016) Dir. Lee Yoon-Jung

Memories, good and bad, need to be held on to – they make up a part of who we are. Losing them could spell disaster, but is it ever justified withholding a particularly memory, no matter how devastating it might be, from someone who has amnesia? Is there a Pandora’s Box waiting to be opened from bringing it back?

Lee Yoon-Jung’s feature length debut ponders this question through lawyer Yeon Seok-Won (Jung Woo-Sung), who wanders into a police station one night to declare himself a missing person. Some months earlier, Seok-Won was injured in a car accident and subsequently lost ten years of his life to amnesia. He slowly begins to get back into the swing of things but finds filling in the gaps of his work and personal life a struggle.

During a trip to the hospital one afternoon, a woman, Kim Jin-Young (Kim Ha-Neul), sitting opposite Seok-Won bursts into tears while looking at him, but refuses to acknowledge if she knows him or not. Jin-Young leaves her medication behind which Seok-Won picks up and returns to her. A relationship blooms which becomes serious but Seok-Won returning memories of the past threaten his future.

This deceptive film dips its toes into many waters, with a central romantic backbone supporting a tense melodrama and a quiet mystery that unfolds in an elliptical fashion to keep us guessing throughout. This paints the characters in curious shades of grey and leads to some frustration with the secrets they keep, but the moral discussion is a fascinating one.  

Jin-Young seems suspicious from the onset and from the audience’s perspective, it is a wonder that Seok-Won’s alarm doesn’t go of as ours does when Jin-Young inveigles her way into Seok-Won’s life. As iffy as she initially appears we don’t know if she is hiding anything but as time passes, and Seok-Won finds himself meeting Jin-Young’s social circle, the façade becomes more obvious.

Conversely Seok-Won seems oddly hesitant to revisit the past, as if he is afraid of learning something he knows will lead to a painful recollection. On doctor’s orders Seok-Won is not to be over stimulated or burdened with too much information, and this acts as a comfort zone of sorts for Seok-Won, allowing him to merely nod and claim he remembers when someone approaches him.

In lieu of a running gag is another mystery this time involving a case Seon-Wok is working on as defence for a Mrs. Kim (Jang Young-Nam) whose husband has gone missing presumed dead at her hands. Seon-Wok pretends he remembers everything but doesn’t, which infuriates Mrs. Kim, although she never lets on why.

If the tease of the repressed memories and the significance of the many people Seok-Won encounters wasn’t enough, Lee Yoon-Jung’s script does a great job in keeping the ambiguity and truth about the two principals just out of reach from being easy to read. The narrative might be fairly straightforward but the plotting is decidedly cruel in toying with conventions just to twist them a little when things start to get comfortable.

With so much of the story’s impact hinging on the eventual revelations of Seok-Won’s missing past and the subsequent fallout, the plot discussion will have to end here for obvious reasons. But it is refreshing to see someone deliciously subvert the normalcy of such melodramatic fare with such overlooked simplicity and deviousness that the suggested Hitchcock comparisons in other reviews doesn’t feel like an exaggeration.

As lofty an endorsement as this sounds, we are talking in terms of the suspense building up to the plot twist which Lee executes with rare precision. Given the humble origins of this film, this is high praise indeed. Remember You is in fact a remake of Lee’s 2010 short film Remember O Goddess which she later wanted to expand into a feature length outing, turning to Kickstarter for initial funding.

For some reason it has taken two years for this film to reach the screen (maybe somebody forgot about it?) but the wait has been worth it. Not only is the story a fresh take on a familiar subject with plenty of unique twists but Lee’s direction is very assured and bold for a debutant, with a keen eye for big presentation ideas that rarely exceed their means.

Each scene is presented in its own individual niche to convey the requisite mood and meaning within the diegesis of Seok-Won’s confused memory. Incorporating many different styles and filming techniques as if a mini clip compilation from various films is running in his head, yet the end result is never overwhelmed by this eclectic mix.

The two leads are exceptionally good. Jung Woo-Sung has a handsome, kind face which automatically makes Seok-Won sympathetic, but behind the coy smile is a character of great depth and complexity. Kim Ha-Neul is a veteran of melodramas but as Jin-Young she is tasked with playing a multi-layered character, the nuances of which take some time to reveal themselves but ultimately make us appreciate her performance more.

As engaging as this film is there are a few little niggles. One concern is how the slow drip effect and teasing of the big revelations does start to feel a little too drawn out, putting pressure on less patient viewers to remain invested. As such, the film’s run time feels like it could lose a few minutes, while the denouement is a bit confused and excessively manipulative but will see many get their hankies out.

For a major studio debut Remember You is an decent outing and Lee Yoon-Jung shows a distinct flair for creating thoughtful, well-crafted scripts, brought to life through a promising artistic vision. She retains a modest indie approach whilst toeing the mainstream line that might extend to further international appeal.

A promising start for a potentially interesting new filmmaker.