South Korean documentary “My Love, Don’t Cross That River” is about the last chapter of a long relationship which lasted for more than 70 years. Although the movie does not give much background information about its aging couple, its simple, plain presentation of their daily life lets us feel how close they have been to each other as maintaining their loving relationship for many years, and that is the main reason why it is sad and poignant to watch them coming to face an inevitable fact of life.
At the beginning, Cho Byeong-man and Kang Gye-young look fairly well despite their age. While he is 98 and she is 89, they still feel young at heart, and we watch them playfully interacting with each other at times. When he makes a small prank on his wife while she is working, she responds with her own prank on him later as a sort of ‘revenge’, and the audiences around me were certainly amused by this moment both funny and intimate.
The enduring bond inside their relationship is clearly visible as the movie shows more of their daily life. They always go around together while wearing their nice traditional clothes made by the wife, and one small moment shows how inseparable they are from each other; the husband takes his wife to the bathroom outside during one dark night, and, as waiting for her to finish her business, he begins to sing an old song for relieving her. They love each other as much as they understand each other, and it goes without saying that is the secret of their long married life.
As they reminisce about the first years of their marriage in front of the camera, we get to know a bit about their married life. She was very young when he came to her house as one of hired workers for her family and then eventually married her not long after that, and their first night was eventless because he did not want to hurt her as a caring husband. After he simply waited until she was more matured, they became closer to each other than before, and we are told that the husband cannot sleep well unless his dear wife sleeps near him.
Some of their children grew up enough to have their own children, and they visit their parents’ house along with their children from time to time. Everyone is usually glad to see each other during their family meetings, but then we get a particularly painful moment during the wife’s birthday party. The camera calmly observes a sudden quarrel between two family members who must have some old grudges against each other, and the wife and her husband silently watch the quarrel between their children becoming more intense and aggressive. They have probably seen such a ruckus before, but they are apparently embarrassed and saddened by their children fighting with each other in front of their eyes.
And we also observe their old hurt from the past. They still miss their lost children a lot even though it was a long time ago, and they go to a clothes shop together for buying some underwear clothes as the presents for their lost children. Their following conversation scene poignantly shows their simple wish to meet their children again after their death, and that will touch anyone with parenting experience.
They have been in peace with their own mortality as old people, but death feels closer to them lately. One of their two pet dogs suddenly dies, and they tearfully bury their beloved dog at a nice spot near their house. We hear that the wife was very sick not so long ago, and we see her going through treatments and examinations at a local hospital while her husband is always at her side.
But then the husband gets very sick with many coughs during nights, and he and his family are told that he is going to die sooner or later – and there is really nothing doctors can do except prescribing more medicines for relieving his pain before his death. His wife looks helpless in front of her ailing husband, but she stands by her man as before while his health condition becomes more deteriorated day by day.
When the idea of this documentary feature film was conceived by the director Jin Mo-young, it was originally intended as a mere companion piece to one well-received TV documentary episode, but then the director and his crew came across this unexpected turn in the life of their subjects, so the film was eventually turned into something more powerful in the middle of the production. Jin Mo-young wisely maintains the restrained mode of his film as its story approaches to the inevitable ending, and the audiences around me could not help be moved to tears by the plain, earnest depiction of deep personal pain and sorrow on the screen.
Although it was released at a small number of local theaters during late November, “My Love, Don’t Cross That River” has gradually received a wider release in South Korea thank to the strong audience reactions followed by word of mouth. In fact, it has recently surpassed the box office record of “Old Partner” (2008), another successful South Korean independent documentary film.
While I did not respond to the film strongly unlike others, I admired how the director and his crew presented their subjects with sincerity and respect, and the result is an engaging documentary to watch. I still wish it could tell more about its interesting old couple and their life, but it did its intended job humbly while not distracted by other things, and its tears are earned well through the heartfelt depiction of a genuine human relationship to remember.