January 28, 2013

My Beautiful Days: Remembering the Forgettable People

Not much happens for 20-something Jun-i (Kim Hyun-sung) in Im Jong-jae's My Beautiful Days and much of the little that does happen eventually comes undone. There's the affair that he's having with an older woman (Bang Eun-jin) which dissolves. There's the chance meeting with an old flame (Pyeon Eun-jeong) which doesn't reignite so much as lead him to her sister (Kim Gyu-ri) which doesn't go anywhere either. A friendship with the owner (Myeong Gye-nam) of the dry cleaners where he works sweetens then fades. His part-time military service is about to end. And yet, My Beautiful Days is hardly nothing. This delicately presented slice-of-life pic accurately reflects a time in life when possibility abounds despite a lack of direction and motivation.

There's definitely drama -- faces are slapped, even bones are broken -- but none of it feels hyperbolic. (Much more charged is the seemingly innocent foot race on a high school track and the grabbing of a hand in an elevator.) My Beautiful Days is wistful, not wild, searching, not searing. All of the characters seem somewhat lost but none in a desperate way. You get a brief indication of where these drifters may be headed by the time of the final frames but even there, the film shows restraint by not looking that far into the future of people who are largely at the beginning of their adult lives.

That said, My Beautiful Days doesn't feel as though it's just talking to and about young people. Chance encounters and small gestures also have life-changing impacts on two of the older characters: The dry cleaners owner is a former painter whose one-time peer and probable lover is having a retrospective. Thanks to a nudge from Jun-i, the retired artist rediscovers his passion, which it turns out is art, not the woman. As such, My Beautiful Days opens possibility within all stages of life and increases a sense of hopefulness and wonder even as it makes no promises for joy or success. Small connections will have to suffice for most of us most of the time.

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