They are still grieving over their loss with guilt inside their hearts, and their confused hearts don’t know what to do. They are pretty clumsy when they grasp for consolation or redemption, and they remain as confused as before. In such an unhappy circumstance, it is no wonder that they begin to see an illusion which constantly reminds them of what they had painfully lost.
“Dear Dolphin”, a calm South Korean character drama about loss and grief, shows us in the beginning a young lively couple who is about to have a dinner together at their small but cozy apartment. Hyeok-gun(Lee Hee-joon) and Cha-kyeong(Han Ye-ri) are deeply in love, and we instantly sense their mutual affection as they warmly and playfully interact with each other. Their life is a bit hard as both of them have to work to support their household, but they are happy in spite of that, and it looks like nothing can possibly separate them.
But something suddenly happens to separate them forever. When Cha-kyeong goes to her close friend Gi-ok(Lee Yeong-jin) because of her floristic work she has to deliver to Gi-ok and then returns to the home by Gi-ok’s bicycle at night, she is killed in an unfortunate car accident, and her death is a devastating blow to both Gi-ok and Hyeok-geun.
A year has passed. Although they try to move on with their respective daily lives, Gi-ok and Hyeok-geun do not seem to recover from their loss at all. Hyeok-geun looks particularly troubled; as the people around him begin to notice from his blank face, he always looks tired and deprived of sleep, and that sometimes affects his work at the physical rehabilitation center. The memories with Cha-kyeong always hovers over his mind, and he is tormented by the fact that he could have prevented the accident if he had just let Cha-kyeong stay at her friend’s house during that night.
And then, he begins to see Cha-kyeong around him. He knows it is not real, but he willingly accepts this hallucination because he has missed her so much. Is she just a hallucination or a real ghost? We see Cha-kyeong going around a local aquarium for watching dolphins at one point, and she comes across a maintenance guy who later functions as her therapist listening to her in his office. The movie does not tells us what exactly is going on, but Han Ye-ri and Ki Joo-bong, who plays a maintenance guy, make their scenes engaging, and we listen to them even while we feel baffled about what the hell they are doing.
Meanwhile, the movie slowly reveals an odd triangle between its main characters. Like Hyeok-geun, Gi-ok feels lots of guilt about her best friend’s death because she was also indirectly responsible for the accident. She casually lent her bicycle to Cha-kyeong even though she knew it needed repair due to a brake problem, and that fact has been gnawing her heart even though she had admitted her fault during the investigation. To make the matters worse, Cha-kyeon’s frigidly gentle elder sister(Lee Eun-ah) still cannot forgive her; she frequently visits Gi-ok to remind that to her, and that hurts Gi-ok a lot – and she has no one to talk with about her pain.
When Gi-ok visits the cemetery for remembering her friend, she happens to meet Hyeok-geun. They are pretty awkward to each other at first, but, when they later have a dinner together with several glasses of alcohol, they begin to open their mouth, and they talk a lot about Cha-kyeong while sharing their feeling of loss. In the end, they find themselves having sex in a hotel room during that night.
Now you may think you know where the story is going, but the movie defies your expectation, and it does not push its characters into predictable plot. Because they have no idea about how to deal with their difficult situation, they continue to struggle with their respective problems, and the lack of communication between them brings more troubles and hurts to each of them. Hyeok-geun keeps being haunted by his hallucination, and his ‘affair’ with Gi-ok makes him all the more miserable. As watching Hyeok-guen haunted by his wife, Gi-ok feels frustrated about the lack of response from a man she has secretly loved for long years, and, with the increasing guilt of her own, she also begins to feel what Hyeok-guen has been seeing.
The movie is based on the director Kang Jin-a’s short film made in 2009. I have not seen it, but I can say its feature version is a good film to be appreciated. There are dreamy moments occasionally appearing in the movie, but there is always the realistic atmosphere of mundane daily life, and Lee Yeong-jin, Lee Hee-joon, and Han Ye-ri all give convincing performances. Their characters come to us as the real people dealing with the real problems we can identify with, and their human behaviors remind that we are sometimes not that wise in case of handling the matters of heart.
“Dear Dolphin” is a sensitive story about dark and gloomy moments of loss and grief. The movie is not a pleasant experience, but this is an engaging drama none the less, and I must point out that it is not entirely devoid of humor and laughs while quietly observing the pain and sadness inside its characters. It is difficult to let your loved one go, but, as some of you have experienced, we eventually do that regardless of whether we want it or not – and we move on as the living.