Past Lives – Film Review

Love. Whether it be puppy love, familial love, friendship love, or romantic love, all love is real and valid and this is the case for writer and director Celine Song’s directorial feature film debut ‘Past Lives’.

‘Past Lives’ tells the tale of childhood sweethearts Nora and Hae Sung, soon separated by Nora’s family emigrating from South Korea. Twenty years later, the two find their worlds crossing again despite being oceans apart.

I was interested in seeing ‘Past Lives’ due to my love for South Korean cinema and romances, with the film being in the romantic drama genre. Two of my favourite things had been infused and alongside an international release, as well as universal buzz for Celine Song’s directorial debut, I was admittedly very keen for this film and was expecting a sweet and moving love story. What I didn’t expect was to cry harder than I ever had before during any movie.

Celine Song has expertly told a tale of genuine love and heartache between Nora and Hae Sung. Her storytelling supremely impresses to the point where I’m surprised this is her first feature film in what I am certain will be a promising long career.

Young Nora and young Hae Sung are played beautifully by Seung Ah Moon and Seung Min Yim with the two child actors exerting a sweet chemistry on-screen that is both believable and so adorable. The way that this is captured and unfolds felt real and so heartfelt. The scene when the pair separate as kids for the last time in a picturesque stairway and pathway shot really moved me. Not only does this moment symbolise many meanings and is just the beginning of their individual journeys, but the shot itself could be paused, printed, and placed into a picture frame. It is that beautiful.

Greta Lee’s Nora and Teo Yoo’s Hae Sung getting together would be the most romantic triumph if only the two could only overcome their differences, make bold moves and sacrifices. With time being the overall enemy to these two star-crossed lovers that audiences (including myself) end up falling for, we almost feel like a third wheel to their unspoken relationship. Many of us can relate to having a tether to someone we have feelings for that is never actually addressed, and then when it is, it is no more. I really felt for Nora and Hae Sung because of this.

However, there is already a love triangle with John Magaro as Arthur stepping into the picture. Typically, someone in Arthur’s situation would be considered the obstacle or the villain. But Arthur is never painted in this position and therefore, audiences never actually hate him. Instead of the typical tropes of men fighting and trying to win the girl over, ‘Past Lives’ provides a very awkward but civil and mature exchange between these three characters. Soon enough, audiences are the last ones left to still be clinging onto these characters’ past lives.

While Greta Lee is great as the headstrong Nora and John Magaro provides an emotional performance as Arthur, I must applaud Teo Yoo for his phenomenal performance as Hae Sung. His facial expressions, the way he held himself and his gestures spoke volumes without ever saying a word. I’ve admittedly not seen Teo Yoo in any role before and his impressive performance as Hae Sung makes me want to look up what else he has been in. He’s that good.

‘Past Lives’ highly deserves every accolade and praise. Everyone absolutely needs to see this film. If you love South Korean films, excellently written romantic dramas, or just good cinema in general, the film is in both Korean and English and is very easy to follow. You really have no excuse not to see it! Just don’t forget to bring the tissues.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film so exquisite and honest. I’ve also never cried so hard in a movie before! Celine Song’s ‘Past Lives’ is a gorgeous, bitter-sweet, and sincere love story worth telling, and is without a doubt the is the best film I have seen this year.

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