Right here. This, this sort of movie, this is the reason we go see Asian films.
Be With You is a sweet little Korean film about a father and son, the father working hard at odd hours so he can make breakfast for his son and get him off to school, both of them kissing a picture of a woman on the way out the door. The woman is, of course, the wife/mother, who has passed away about a year ago. The movie, in fact, opens with her reading a story about a mother who has died and comes back down to see her child when the rainy season starts. Then she has to go back when the rainy season is over.
I forget what kind of animal it is. Sheep or duck or something. But it seems like an oddly specific story, doesn’t it? Needless to say, the movie begins right before the rainy season starts and the little boy is expecting to see his mother. The father, not having the heart to break the truth to him, does not correct the child.
Also, needless to say, the rainy season starts and there she is! (So we got ourselves some magical realism here.)
But there’s a catch (besides the obvious one): The mother doesn’t know who they are. And the movie becomes the progress of the family rebuilding itself around the amnesiac woman, telling us in little flashbacks and snippets how the two parents met in school, and how the father pined for her but couldn’t ever approach her. They don’t tell her anything about her own death, only that she’s been away for a year.
But then! She discovers her own diary. And she discovers that she did die, and from there on she changes radically, becoming more motherly and wifely, and gradually sets it all up so that when she has to go back, the audience is going to bawl its eyes out.
It’s cute, funny, poignant, charming and with a bunch of likable characters, like the husband’s would-be-Lothario of a boss, forever frustrated because all the girls much prefer the young widower (whose heart belongs to his late wife). And the “uncle” of the family, a comical college friend who, for all his obnoxiousness (especially in trying to fix up the hero with a new girl) turns out to have been the one that got the two of them together in the first place (precisely through obnoxiousness).
And then, as we’ve seen so many times, you get to that final act and you think, “Well, this is solid and enjoyable, if not spectacular”—and the movie goes on for another 20 minutes completely shifting your POV around. In this case, when an American movie would’ve ended, instead we get to see the whole thing played out again (much abbreviated, of course) from her point-of-view.
The thing about magical realism, though, is that has to be delicately balanced. There have to be rules. And this one seems a little too neat, a little too tidy about how everything plays out. And then in the last 20 minutes, everything comes into sharp focus and you realize that everything you thought was just a convenience had a solid background of character development and a different kind of “magic” behind it. In other words, you think you get the rules, and the movie tells you at the end, “No, you had that wrong. This is what was really going on.”
It’s quite a sleight-of-hand. And it works because you want it to. You want this all to be something amazing about love and life, and it does not let you down.
And that is why we go see the Asian films.