“P.S. I Love You” vs. “The Letter”
I know I cannot be the only person to have noticed the similarities.
When I first started seeing ads for the new Hilary Swank movie P.S. I Love You, I was struck with the storyline and figured it must be another case, as with Il Mare and My Sassy Girl, of Hollywood adapting a popular, well-received Korean film. Because the story of P.S. I Love You — what I can glean from commercials and online searches, that is — seems almost a direct retelling of the 1997 Korean film The Letter, starring one of the top Korean actresses of all time, Choi Jin Shil, and an actor I’ve only JUST realized is Park Shin Yang.
In fact, it was so similar that I was totally sure it was a remake — but looking online reveals no connection. The Hollywood movie is apparently based on a 2004 novel of the same name, written by first-time novelist Cecelia Ahern, according to Wikipedia.
Huh. I suppose it could be a case of two people coming up with the same idea independently, but it’s an awfully big coincidence.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Gun Mo – “이별없는 사랑” (A love without farewell). I’ve just rediscovered all my old Kim Gun Mo albums (thanks to holidays spent back at the family home), and remembered why he was one of the few pop singer-songwriters who’s lasted through the ever-changing kpop scene. You can’t really call him “kpop” although he is Korean and writes/sings pop music in the strict sense of the term. [ zShare download ]
I remember seeing The Letter in a movie theater in L.A. — a rare occurrence, that, since ten years ago Korean films weren’t really a blip on the international cinema scene. But this was Koreatown, and The Letter was enough of a hit in Korea that a theater in L.A. ran the film — with English subtitles! — in a limited run wherein (practically) everyone I knew went to see it.
I wasn’t a big Korean film fan then, and not even really a kdrama fan, although I had seen the lead actress, Choi Jin Shil, in THE original trendy drama, Jealousy, when it kicked off the romantic-comedy drama craze in 1992.
The Letter was billed as a sad movie, which is also something I vigorously avoid, but for some reason it seems more uplifting than tragic. I cried buckets in the movie — I am not exaggerating because I distinctly remember noting this at the time — and started weeping about halfway through the film and DID NOT STOP. But it was the kind of crying you enjoy indulging in, not the sadomasochistic or self-pitying kind. I heard that Choi Jin Shil cried so much while filming the movie that she passed out from dehydration.
Anyway. This is what I remember of the film — I’ve only seen it once, but I have a pretty good memory for useless details and this film sticks in my memory:
THE GENERAL PLOT (Non-spoilery)
Choi Jin Shil and Park Shin Yang are a happily, newly married couple with the whole world in front of them, until they discover that Park Shin Yang is dying of cancer. He passes away early on in the film, and leaves behind his grieving widow, who has to now move on alone. One day she gets a letter — from her husband. She can’t figure out where it came from and it doesn’t SEEM to be a mistake. As in, it’s not a long-lost letter; it’s addressed to her as though he’s speaking to her in the present.
She continues to get letter after letter, which of course is welcome and yet entirely confounding. Are they fake? Is it from a ghost? How is he sending her these messages now? And let’s just say by the end she gains a measure of peace and it’s all heartwarming and uplifting even with all the sad mixed in.
THE SPOILERY VERSION
Since it’s been such a while since I’ve seen the film, I can only recall certain parts — but they’re such powerful parts. Park Shin Yang is completely touching as the slowly deteriorating husband who clings to his positive side despite the fact that his body is breaking down, and Choi Jin Shil is always wonderful.
No, there’s no supernatural flibberty-gibberty going on, nor is there some freaky time-space warp issue. The truth is quite simple, actually, but what makes the film work isn’t its premise so much as it is watching how these two people act their way through it. Eventually, we find out the source of the letters — and it’s really the plainest, most logical answer: The husband had prepared them prior to his death, without his wife’s knowledge, and gave instructions for them to be sent to her after his passing in order to help ease her grief.
There’s a particularly lovely part, one of those scenes you first see from one side, and then from the other, and it’s when you see the full picture that the emotion hits you full-force. And it’s a doozy. Just thinking of it even now brings tears to my eyes. Early on in the film, Wifey is taking care of her ailing husband, who’s very sick from chemo but not yet at death’s door, when she goes out to run some errands or some such thing. She’s been worn down from taking care of her sick husband, and he’s been irritable lately, so although they love each other, affection hasn’t been their priority in recent days.
So on a whim, she stops by a pay phone to call home, only the answering machine picks up. She leaves her message for her husband to hear later, saying, “I wanted to tell you this now, because I haven’t said it lately. I love you.”
Then, after he dies and sends her letters and she finds out that he’d written the letters prior to his death, she receives a final message from him. The fact that it’s the last letter she’ll be receiving is particularly moving even if not for the message itself, which comes this time in the form of a video. Wifey pops in the tape to see that it’s her husband, sometime during his chemotherapy stages, talking into the camera. But he’s interrupted by a phone call — and since he’s in the middle of recording, he decides not to pick up, and waits for the answering machine to finish its message. And when he hears his wife’s voice, and the message that she leaves, OH GOOD LORDY the expression on Park Shin Yang’s face as he completely breaks down… wow. The movie’s worth it just for that scene, y’all. Now that I’ve spoiled it for you, heh.
END OF SPOILERYNESS
I’ll say right now that I think the Hilary Swank version is gonna suck. I have nothing to base that assertion upon except for the fact that it looks unbearably cheesy, like a Nicholas Sparks novel gone (even more) self-indulgently maudlin.
Even if P.S. I Love You doesn’t bear any official relation to The Letter, it still seems to have produced that weirdness that happened when Il Mare was bastardized into its Hollywoodified Sandra-Keanu version in The Lake House. Il Mare — despite the seeming outrageousness of its premise (two people send each other letters through a maaagical mailbox despite living two years apart) — worked because of the small moments, the thin bond that sprung up between Jeon Ji Hyun’s and Lee Jung Jae’s characters and which slowly, organically, quietly grew into something substantial. That movie lives and breathes in its silences, its long pauses — which is why the glossier, melodramatic-er Lake House does nothing for me. Except perhaps cause my eyeballs to roll upward of their own accord. I can’t help it. It’s snark reflex.
Okay, so it’s probably too early to be consigning P.S. I Love You to the same fate (is it, though?), but who cares, I’ll do it anyway. Even if I’d seen the marketing blitz for P.S. with no knowledge of The Letter, I’d write it off as squishy oversentimentalized sappiness that turns me off despite the fact that I’m the perfect target audience: I have a built-in high-shmaltz tolerance! I love silly teen movies and predictable romantic comedies! But with this kind of movie, I’m sick of the overwrought-ness of it all. Everything just seems too TOO. Too much drama, too much angst, too much wonder, just too much. Hollywood needs to calm the fuck DOWN and let their movies breathe.