The Classic

Reviewed by: il_mare

February 10, 2004

Rating: three-point-five

Running time : 132 mins
Date opened in Korea : 30 Jan 2003

Director: Kwak Jae-yong (My Sassy Girl)

Actors :

Son Ye-jin as SONG Joo-hee / YOON Ji-hye (Summer Scent)
CHO Seung-woo as OH Joon-ha
Jo In-sung as OH Sang-min (Piano)
LEE Ki-woo as YOON Tae-soo
LEE Sang-in as Soo-kyung
YANG Hyun-tae as Suk-woo


The movie begins with Ji-hye cleaning up her apartment and accidentally stumbling on her mother’s love letters from her first love. As she unfolds the old and yellowed pages, the words used were poetic and sounded like an old-fashion story.

She is interrupted by a phone call from her friend Suk-woo. Suk-woo is dating Sang-min, a popular undergraduate from the drama club. Ji-hye corresponded as Suk-woo for three months with Sang-min. Suk-woo asks Ji-hye to join them for a movie and dinner, on Sang-min’s invitation. Ji-hye agrees and gave a sigh of helplessness as she is also in love with Sang-min.

She goes back to read the old love letters. From the letters she discovers that they were from her mother’s first love, Oh Joon-ha. He was corresponding with Ji-hye’s mother Joo-hee as Yoon Tae-soo. Tae-soo is Joon-ha’s friend/schoolmate and also Joo-hee’s fiancée as arranged by both parents.

But actually Joon-ha had met Joo-hee in his uncle’s hometown during one of his summer vacations before that. Joo-hee had begged Joon-ha to take her to the ghost house opposite the river. She is curious to explore the house but her grandfather forbids her to go there. They had a wonderful day together visiting the ghost house. Both took shelter in the rain after Joo-hee sprained her ankle, and ended up spending the entire day together. When they returned safely to the village in the dark evening, Joon-ha was greeted by Joo-hee’s family, and was given a loud slap by her grandfather. Joo-hee is the granddaughter of a reputable family in the village, and her father is a government minister. Joon-ha is blamed for his inappropriate actions and taking Joo-hee to the ghost house. Joo-hee eventually fell ill and was ferried to the city, and Joon-ha thought he would never see her again.

When Tae-soo approached Joon-ha to write to his fiancé, Joon-ha was pleasantly surprised to know that Joo-hee is Tae-soo’s betrothed. And because of Tae-soo, Joon-ha and Joo-hee manage to meet again. Firstly at Joo-hee’s school piano recital, and then they caught up again at a social dance lesson where they double dated.

The young couple’s relationship was put to the test when Tae-soo confesses to Joon-ha that he is falling for Joo-hee. Joo-hee tried to break-up with Joon-ha over Tae-soo. She does not want to have anything to do with either Joon-ha or Tae-soo as she does not want to hurt anyone, and she felt that the difference (I think in terms of background) between Joon-ha and herself was too big.. But their first break-up was not very successful. Joon-ha decided to tell Tae-soo the truth. Surprisingly, Tae-soo already knew of their relationship because he recognise the necklace that Joon-ha wears, a gift from Joo-hee. The necklace was in turn a gift to Joo-hee from Tae-soo’s father. The kind Tae-soo decides to help the young couple by allowing Joon-ha to use his name on his letters to Joo-hee so that they may continue to correspond behind Joo-hee’s family’s back during the long winter holidays.

Unfortunately, the truth was discovered by Joo-hee’s family, and reported to Tae-soo’s father. In a fit of rage, he whips Tae-soo ruthlessly with his belt. To get back at his father, Tae-soo commits suicide, but was saved by Joon-ha. Overcome with guilt of his friend’s suffering, Joon-ha leaves Joo-hee. He leaves the necklace Joo-he gave him on the doorknob of Tae-soo’s hospital room.

A few years passed and Joo-hee bumps into Tae-soo at a student demonstration. She asks about Joon-ha and found out that he was to be shipped off to war. Tae-soo and Joo-hee manages to send Joon-ha off in time at the train station. As she runs after the train, she returns the necklace to Joon-ha and tearfully asks him to return safely.

Joon-ha fights in the war, and during a retreat, he realised that he left the necklace behind the battlefield. He made his way back into the frontline to retrieve the necklace, and as he was making his way for back to the helicopter, he is injured by a landmine and the camera pulls away as it shows a bloody Joon-ha shaking and reaching for the necklace.

The next screen shows Joon-ha gets off a taxi, and walked into a café. He was meeting Joo-hee. She was overcome with tears as she sees Joon-ha. He asked why she is still single, and informs her that he is already married. As the conversation progressed, Joo-hee realises that Joon-ha has gone blind (most probably blinded from the battle injury). Both wept as Joon-ha tried to return Joo-hee the necklace. But Joo-hee insisted that the necklace belongs to Joon-ha.

Eventually, Joo-hee marries Tae-soo and gives birth to Ji-hye three years later. During a visit to her hometown, she found out that Joon-ha had passed away. He asked for his ashes to be scattered in the village’s river. Joo-hee also found out that he actually married after she did, and has a son. He leaves behind his dairy for Joo-hee.

In the meantime, Ji-hye was confronted by Sang-min of his feelings for her. They got together and went back to Ji-hye’s mother’s hometown to backtrack the story that she has just read…..It seems like the fate of Joon-ha and Joo-hee continues in Ji-hye and Sang-min.


I watched this movie because it was highly recommended by another Korea movie addict friend of mine. He felt that "The Classic" was better than "Il Mare" and "My Sassy Girl", and felt that I should catch it. Fearing for the throne of my dear "Il Mare", I had to watch it. If it was to be, then I will have to change my name to "The Classic" (doesn’t sound as cool as "Il Mare", it’s all in a good name).

"The Classic" was an entertaining movie with a fair share of laughs and tears. But it lacked the “WOW” factor. You know that feeling that your insides been turned out, and you are forever affected by the movie. Although I felt the only thing that saved “My Sassy Girl” was the ending, but the “WOW” during the ending made up for all the times I was asking myself “Why was this the top grossing Korean movie of the year?” I could not identify the “WOW” in "The Classic". I felt that the similarities drawn between the love stories of mother and daughter was to make up for the sadness that was created in the mother’s version, and that the audience would get some form of relief with the daughter’s eventual partner. I also thought that the director would play on the difference in family background as the main reason for the break-up, instead he picked the weaker plot of friendship. Strange, I felt it would have been a more convincing motivation.

Otherwise, this movie was no different from an atypical Korean sob love story of first love, missed opportunities, and friendship. I felt that the director had bought an off-the-shelf recipe for successful Korean movie when making this movie. The ingredients are
1. Good looking leads
2. Beautiful country scenery
3. First love memorable moments – damsel in distress, caught in the rain, sprained ankle
4. Common reasons for parting – family, good friend, guilt or self-sacrifice because of terminal disease or … some handicap like being blind
5. Light-hearted hilarious moments – Tae-soo’s farting act, students fighting for the toilet, social dancing gathering
6. Tear jerking tragic wailing moments – Joon-ha leaving the necklace on the door knob, the send off at the train station, Joo-hee reaction to Joon-ha’s death
7. Love gift – the necklace
8. Twist at the end to bring everything together

Speaking of the twist at the end, I have to say it was not very well executed as the director had already provided obvious clues early on in the movie, e.g. with the poem Sang-min for Ji-hye in his gift. This technically took away the element of surprise with the twist, thus rending the ending “twist-less”(By the way, how did Ji-hye know how the necklace looks like?). I think one-word sums up my view of this movie, predictable. But despite the unsurprising storyline, I have to give credit to the great execution of the cast.

The leads Son Ye-jin and Cho Seung-woo had outstanding chemistry as first loves. Son has this damsel in distress look that no one can resist the helpless expression in her eyes. Cho is the romantic literary who steals Son’s heart with his words and his shy smile. I also felt the boyish Cho and the sweet Son were appropriate in their roles. Even when transcending to their older persona in the movie, both were able to add that touch of age and a sense of lost time on both sides. I enjoyed Lee Ki-woo as the kind yet silly Yoon Tae-soo. But I liked him as the high school student better. He looked awkward as an adult. The surprise find for me was Jo In-sung. Can Korean man get any better! (Who’s talking about his acting).

My favourite scenes were actually the scenes of the boys in school. I am not familiar with Korean history/living, but the regimental way of school life was depicted in a light-hearted manner although it must have been difficult enduring such strict code of school rules. The movie also gave me some insights on youths growing up in a changing Korea. But I wished the director had given me more of that versus the love story.

All in all, I will be keeping the name "Il Mare" for obvious reasons. Watch this if you have time to spare for a heart-tugging (and not heart wrenching) love story on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

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