White tees and skinny jeans, Grimm’s fairy tales and Marvel comics, 80s disco beat and soul music—what do these things have in common? Yes, they are all classics.
In films, specifically Korean, there’s one masterpiece that always comes to my mind when I think of classics, and that’s none other than the 2003 romance-melodrama that truly lives up to its name—The Classic.
The movie tells the parallel love stories of mother-and-daughter Joo-hee and Ji-hye, both portrayed by Son Ye-jin, with the former’s love history being told in periodic flashbacks. It comes from the direction of Kwak Jae-yong, who previously directed the 2001 smash hit My Sassy Girl, resulting in very high expectations for this follow-up.
Though The Classic is definitely a gorgeous film, it had some flaws that somehow affected its overall appeal, but not enough to ruin it. Its similarities with its predecessor are too striking it’s hard not to notice right away. For example, both The Classic and My Sassy Girl contained main-lovers-braving-the-pouring-rain and female-lead-piano-recital scenes. Ji-hye’s tamed sassiness can also be compared to that of “the Girl” (Jun Ji-hyun) in My Sassy Girl. Also, the use of the same piano piece—Pachelbel’s Canon in D—in both movies didn’t go unnoticed from the viewers’ ears. All of these similarities actually worked out well for The Classic, the only problem is, it made the audience and critics question the movie’s originality.
Meanwhile in the acting department, Jo In-sung’s portrayal of Sang-nim, Ji-hye’s love interest, also felt dry to the point that their chemistry didn’t reach the viewers. But, whatever is lacking in Jo In-sung and Son Ye-jin’s connection is fulfilled by the latter’s undeniable on-screen chemistry with Jo Seung-woo, who played the role of Joon-ha, the man Joo-hee loved so dearly in their 60s you-and-me-against-the-world love story. This earned them the Best Couple trophy at the 9th Moscow International Love Movie Awards.
Joon-ha and Joo-hee’s love affair that is wonderfully depicted through flashbacks everytime Ji-hye reads her mom’s old love letters and diary probably helped Jo Seung-woo and Son Ye-jin establish a much stronger chemistry. Their love story is more complicated and dramatic compared to that of Ji-hye and Sang-nim, with family obligations being the most significant hindrance to their happiness.
The one thing that officially made The Classic a classic is Son Ye-jin’s remarkable portrayal of Joo-hee and Ji-hye’s characters. Her acting performance alone is more than enough to cover up for some of her co-stars’ lackluster delivery. She effortlessly made the viewers feel Joo-hee and Ji-hye’s pain and frustration for not being able to express and fight for their feelings for their respective love interests. For this, she was hailed as the 39th Baeksang Arts Awards’ Best New Actress.
Now if these are still not enough for you to give The Classic a try, here are five classic scenes from the movie that will make you want to click the play button ASAP. Read on!
Wanna experience a not so typical first date just like Joon-ha and Joo-hee? There are four things you need: a haunted house, rain shower, a watermelon, and fireflies.
Ji-hye had probably wished for a time freeze during this moment in which Sang-nim volunteered to accompany her to the library one rainy day. She thought it was just a random act of kindness, but she later on discovered that Sang-nim purposely left his umbrella at a coffee shop to be with her. Woah, it wasn’t a one-sided love all along! Lucky girl!
Joon-ha’s love for Joo-hee is probably one of the purest I’ve seen. After returning from his military deployment to Vietnam, Joon-ha met with Joo-hee where he lied to her about being married so that she could finally accept her arranged marriage with Tae-soo. But Joon-ha’s fake marriage isn’t what pained Joo-hee more, it’s her discovery of Joon-ha’s tragic fate of losing his eyesight during the Vietnam War while retrieving the necklace she gave him. Joon-ha’s pretend to cover up his disability was almost perfect, with him even visiting their meeting place a day before they met. It’s just that it’s hard to hide the truth from a longing woman in love.
There are people who are just not meant to be together no matter how sincerely and deeply in love they are with each other. Years after the two of them parted ways, Joon-ha died and wished that his ashes be scattered by Joo-hee on the river where they first met. It was in this moment, Joo-hee also discovered the sad truth that Joon-ha only got married right after her, and had one son.
Time flew so fast, and Joon-ha and Joo-hee’s love affair is nothing but an old, sad tale until fate meddled in as if it wanted to make up for the tragic end the two suffered in the past. One afternoon, while Ji-hye was sharing her mother’s love story, Sang-nim broke down in tears. Confused, Ji-hye just looked at him only to be surprised when Sang-nim showed her a familiar necklace. Then they realized that right from the start, the two of them are fated for each other to give their parents’ love story a happy ending.
Final verdict: Imperfect yet satisfying. 3.5/5
~All credit for the stills used in this review goes to Egg Films and Cinema Service.