There’s a charming innocence to “Christmas in August” that is both endearing and ultimately irksome. The naive approach of first-time feature helmer Hur Jin-Ho helps make the pic an original meditation on mortality, but the wide-eyed , almost childish treatment wears thin over the long haul. Pic is an appealing effort, but its low-key style will make it a tough sell internationally.
Hur tells what little story there is at an unhurried pace, befitting the laid-back personality of the main character, Jung-Won (Han Suk-Kyu). He runs a ramshackle photo studio somewhere in the nondescript suburbs of Seoul. He spends his days enlarging class photos for little kids and taking family snapshots.
A young meter maid, Da-Rim (Shim Eun-Ha), comes in to ask Jung-Won to develop some shots of parking infractions. It is anything but love at first sight, though the two unlikely mates gradually develop a strong bond of affection.
The central duo never express their feelings toward each other — one of the pic’s weaknesses — and their only date is a rather sad trip to the amusement park. Jung-Won is suffering from a terminal illness, which is never named, and only he and his immediate family know that his days are numbered.
Contrast between blossoming friendship and impending death is the script’s cliched center. Hur does have a knack for crafting unpretentious, straight-out-of-life scenes. But he is much less successful at bringing auds on board emotionally.
Han’s aw-shucks, goody-two-shoes naivete becomes a tad wearying by the tragic finale, while Shim fares better with her sweet, schoolgirl-ish turn.
Yoo Young-Kil’s lensing provides a nice, naturalistic portrait of down-market , almost rural Seoul suburbs that will likely be unfamiliar to Western viewers.