Soulmate (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two best friends

South Korean film “Soulmate”, which is a remake version of the 2016 Chinese film of the same name, revolves around the dynamic friendship between two very different girls. While mostly faithful to the Chinese original version, the movie distinguishes itself fairy well as successfully transplanting the story and characters into the South Korean background, and it is also supported well by the strong performances from its two promising lead performers.

The movie begins with a mystery surrounding one talented female artist who has gained considerable attention in public thanks to a number of exceptional artworks but refuses to reveal anything about herself except her name. Because she was once close to this female artist in the past, Mi-so (Kim Da-mi) is approached for more information, but she flatly replies that she has been not in contact with her friend for years, and that seems to be all she can tell at present.

However, after she happens to encounter someone else in her past, Mi-so comes to reflect more on her past with Ha-eun (Jeon So-nee), and the movie naturally goes back to when they met each other for the first time around two decades ago. At that time, young Mi-so was newly transferred to young Ha-eun’s elementary school in Jeju Island, and she was not so happy about moving there, but then she instantly drew Ha-eun’s attention. Although they were different from each other in many aspects, they soon got pretty close to each other, and Mi-so gladly depended on Ha-eun and her family when Mi-so’s single mother later left Mi-so alone in Jeju Island for some personal reason.

Several years later, Ha-eun and Mi-so become high school students, and they often talk and dream about what they are going to do in the future. While Ha-eun is simply content with being a schoolteacher as her parents have wanted, Mi-so is eager to get out of Jeju Island and then experience the world outside, and she even comes to quit her school and then work at a local bar later just because she just wants to enjoy her life right now.

Meanwhile, somebody happens to enter their little private world. When Ha-eun confides to Mi-so that she has had a crush on a certain boy in her school, Mi-so decides to check out this boy, and that leads to a rather awkward moment between them. When Ha-eun later expresses her affection toward him, Jin-woo (Byeon Woo-seok) does not mind this at all, and they eventually begin their romantic relationship, but, what do you know, Jin-woo and Mi-so soon come to sense the mutual attraction between them as they come to spend time along with Ha-eun.

Of course, Mi-so naturally feels quite conflicted about what is happening between her and Jin-woo, and this consequently prompts her to leave Jeju Island and then go to Seoul, but she fails to keep her secret from Ha-eun. Although Mi-so promises to Ha-eun that she will return after going here and there for a while, they become more distant and estranged from each other during next several months, and that is quite apparent to both of them when Mi-so finally returns to Jeju Island.

We already know where the story will eventually arrive, but the screenplay by director Min Yong-geun and his co-writer Kang Hyun-joo keeps us engaged while never losing its focus on its two contrasting main characters. As their complex relationship swings amid many different emotions ranging from affection to resentment, Ha-eun and Mi-so come to influence each other a lot more than expected, and there is a poignant irony between their respective life stories. While Mi-so comes to settle into a lot more stable position after going through a series of ups and downs, Ha-eun comes to reflect more on what she really wants to do with her life, and we are not so surprised at all when she comes to take a big bold step later in the story.

In addition, the movie is constantly energized by the terrific duo performance from its two lead performers. Kim Da-mi, who has been mainly known for “The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion” (2018), and Jeon So-hee, who previously drew my attention for her crucial supporting turn in “After My Death” (2017), are flawless as their characters push and pull each other throughout the film, and their effortless chemistry on the screen is almost equal to that of Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun in the Chinese original version. In case of several other cast members, young performers Kim Soo-hyung and Ryu Ji-an are smoothly connected with Kim and Jeon, and Byeon Woo-seok manages to acquit himself well despite his colorless functional role (To be frank with you, that little cute stray cat adopted by our two heroines early in the film has much more presence in my inconsequential opinion).

On the whole, “Soulmate” does not surpass the original Chinese version, but it is a solid remake which has enough sincerity and sensitivity to be appreciated. Because I still remember the original Chinese version well, this remake version does not feel exactly fresh to me, but I admire how it handles the story and characters in its own way while staying mostly true to its original version, and I assure you that it earns all the tears from its expected melodramatic finale. Yes, I surely knew in advance what I and other audiences would get, but the movie engaged and then touched me during its 2-hour running time nonetheless, and that is more than enough for recommendation for now.

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