Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Hyun Bin and Chinese superstar Tang Wei star in this quiet, indie-ish 2010 remake about finding love in the unlikeliest of places and in the shortest of times.
Just kidding. Anyway, Anna (Tang Wei) is on parole, having been given 72 hours to bury her mother. In that short time, she meets Hong (Hyun Bin), an escort with problems of his own, and the two strike up a strange friendship while meandering around Seattle. This proves two things:
1. The romantic "talkie" small film is not dead, and
2. Even when you only have 72 hours, one can find love. #LandiNeverStops.
Late Autumn stars Hyun Bin as a gigolo who speaks charming, lilted English, and utters the lines, "If you want me to be good, I'll be good. If you want me to be bad, I'll be bad." He's on-brand once again as the besotted bad boy who is NOT good for you, not good for anyone, and not good for society and modern civilization as we know it. Paired with Tang Wei, who is infamous in her own right for starring in the 2007 Shanghai spy caper Lust, Caution (for which she was blacklisted for 3 years because of her explicit scenes), and we have a pair that is ready to implode onscreen any time now.
This movie is also quite famous for having one of the longer kissing scenes you'll see in Asian cinema (the scene is on YouTube. You're welcome). Yet beyond the infamy of that scene, Late Autumn stands out as one of the bleaker, slow-burn flicks that Korea has no problem making year after year. Sure, we love K-cinema for the big bells and whistles, for its large productions and zany plots, but they do have a thriving arthouse genre that is more quiet and more contemplative (and, to be honest, just boring). Fortunately, Late Autumn has just enough haunting strangeness to keep us fascinated as we watch the romance between Anna and Hong unfold.
The film will bring up comparisons to Before Sunrise, but with more touches of requisite Asian drama and family conflict. But unlike Delpy and Hawke's pairing, this is not a big talkie movie, as half of the film is in melancholic silence. Like the fog that surrounds them, the film is soothing and weirdly comforting, the plot interrupted only by a mushy confrontation near the end, but forgiven as soon as it hits the bittersweet finale. The loneliness of both leads is palpable; the alienation is obvious. But the film wisely avoids cloying territory by peppering it with unexpectedly romantic moments, such as when Anna confides her past to Hong in Mandarin (a language that Hong doesn't understand), and a dash of surrealism (look for a Broadway dance number somewhere). All in all, the movie is just one of those rare gems that doesn't feel forced or contrived, but instead feels just too achingly real.
Jointly produced by Korea, China, Hong Kong, and the US, Late Autumn is a breath of fresh air mainly because it doesn't paint itself into an "Asian" corner where everything must be tinged with tales of diaspora, immigrant struggle, or token Orientalism. It is a true romance, albeit a strange one between an ex-convict and a gigolo, but between a man and a woman nonetheless. Both just happen to be Asians in Seattle. How...refreshing.
One wonders if that was one of the reasons why Late Autumn became one of the biggest hits in China when it was released. Did we long to see honest portrayals of our Asian selves onscreen, without the stereotypes and the exoticism? Or did we, as Hong remarked, simply "like the strange?" Or maybe, just maybe, we just wanted to watch Hyun Bin make out with a girl at a bus stop. Who knows? All we know is this melancholic gem of a film has now joined the little list of quiet k-movies that we will re-watch in the future, preferably on a rainy day, when we are in need of quiet and the good kind of strange.
Late Autumn is available on Viu PH.