Saturday 10 February 2024

Movie Review: Past Lives (2023)

Genre: Romantic Drama  
Director: Celine Song  
Starring: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro  
Running Time: 106 minutes  

Synopsis: In Seoul, South Korea, 12-year-olds Na Young and Hae Sung are competitive classmates and friends. They lose touch after Na Young's family immigrates to Canada. 12 years later, Na Young has adopted the name Nora (Greta Lee) and settled in New York to study writing. Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) is still in Korea and has completed his military service. They reconnect for a while through on-line chats. 12 years further on, Nora is married to Arthur (John Magaro) and Hae Sung comes for a visit to New York, fresh from a relationship breakup.

What Works Well: With soulful cinematography and stellar framing, director and writer Celine Song's semi-autobiographical story carries wistful notes reminiscent of Lost In Translation. The decades-spanning relationship is a frame to explore the nature of fate, soulmate connections, regrets, ambitions colliding with reality, the immigration experience, and life's meandering pathways. The final chapter is the strongest, bringing together Nora, Hae Sung and Arthur in New York and leading to a probing conversation between husband and wife, delivered with unusually calm perceptiveness.

What Does Not Work As Well: All the characters are the definition of average, and they lean into their bland ordinariness to the detriment of any narrative edge. Some of the behaviour borders on cluelessly obsessive (Hae Sung seems to never outgrow a first crush) and negligent (Nora carrying on a conversation in Korean, shutting out her husband).

Conclusion: A quietly pensive reflection on life's what-ifs.

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