Since I had watched the series ages ago, I decided that I would watch the movie version as well. And I am glad I did as you see the story flow so much more clearly.
With a set of much fresher eyes, this movie (and series) is not only profound, it is an amazing tale of unrequited love that is almost unrealized. Its pace is swift, intense, and utterly believable. There are no wasted scenes or fillers. Just raw drama and significant intensity of feelings.
The story focuses on Han Tae Ju, brilliantly portrayed by Han Gi Chan, and his ‘bodyguard’, named Kang Gook, played pensively and forlornly by Jang Eui Soo. Han Tae Joo is a somewhat narcissistic playboy who is constantly in trouble because of his indiscretions and therefore in continuous need of protection. Not only from himself, but also from the wrath that his father doles out indiscriminately and with little regard, either to his son or his bodyguard. But Kang Gook is not just a bodyguard but a companion and seemingly a good friend. I say seemingly because while Kang Gook is in love with Tae Joo, he knows that his status is that of a ‘servant’ only and nothing more. They have been a part of each other’s lives for more than 15 years and a natural bonding has occurred. Their worlds while intertwined, are still separated. The sadness in Kang Gook’s eyes is palpable and you can feel his pain. Both, however, are under the dominance of Tae Joo’s father, who is strikingly abusive.
This movie is so aptly named because it is all within their eyes. The story is conveyed through their eyes – the way they look at each other, stare at each other, long for each other, and communicate with each other. While Tae Joo is a playboy, Kang Gook can only stay behind and observe and be in pain as he gazes at him with others. However, when the opportunity finally presents itself for a reversal of fortunes, Tae Joo is left tortured, angry, and fearful that someone else has Kang Gook’s attention. Over the years, they have developed a ritual of when they want to be intimate with each other; they ‘practice’ their martial arts maneuvers. It is the closest that they can be to being together and feel each other physically without it being sexual. But to deny their sensuality and sexual tension during these matches would be to deny the obvious. Neither one has the courage to act on what both are feeling and are unable to bring it to the surface.
Finally, when Tae Joo confesses that he loves him, Kang Gook reacts cruelly to shut him down. He does this more so as a defense mechanism; so he is not hurt by Tae Joo’s inability to be real or genuine, especially in relationships. It is emotionally painful to watch because I am sure (including me) that some have been in relationships where the love seems unattainable because of circumstances, and/or status in life, and/or the failure to be genuine or real. This feebleness in not wanting to accept their love for each other and to further use that as a weapon for emotional torture is what drives the final wedge between them. Tae Joo is banished to England to study while Kang Gook stays behind.
The chemistry between these two (very handsome) actors is a thing of beauty. There is sadness, angst, playfulness, lust, and a real depth to their emotions and feelings that never quite surface, but you know it is there. Neither overplayed their parts. Each gave us just enough for us to see their deep connection that is unrecognized by either yet felt by both. That is difficult to do – to portray love, desire, lust, and yearn for one another without ever having to say it. If any movement, even the slightest, towards each other, they both recoil and lash out with vengeance, each knowing which buttons to push and how to say it to be most hurtful. Both were able to brilliantly give us these nuances; not only with their acting but with their eyes and body language. While profoundly sad to watch, there was a sliver of hope of happiness near the end as we saw that they both share each other’s deep love for one another. They were finally able to say it before they had to separate from each other. Would it be sustainable after the long years of separation?
The supporting roles (there are not many) are interesting people, some with great perception. They are inculcated amazingly into the story and are integral to its flow. The owner of the restaurant, played astutely by Seo In Jung, is a pivotal figure, who almost instinctually recognizes the intensity between these two young men. She knows and senses and sees the connection, even if they cannot or will not. She also tries to gently guide her daughter, Choi Hye Mi (Kyu Ri Choi), to see that her infatuation with Kang Gook will never be reciprocated.
The writing is superb with lines that bear repeating and summarize succinctly what this story conveys:
“I have an old friend. We’re always together like each other’s shadows. And that shadow of mine has developed a sense of self.”
Another important life lesson to learn from this movie (series) is, as the adage goes, “Patience is a virtue”. That lesson is painfully and agonizingly learned. Yet, there is a reward at the end for that patience. Enjoy the lesson learned. When you watch to the end, you will smile wistfully.
Rating: 4.8 out of 5