The familiar Korean template of young lovers separated by misunderstandings but linked by a destiny they only half understand gets a good working out in “The Classic,” writer-director Kwak Jae-yong’s first picture since his brawny 2001 B.O. hit “My Sassy Girl” (currently being remade by DreamWorks). Aficionados of the country’s slickly-lensed youth mellers, with a clever twist, will find plenty to enjoy here, though pic lacks the lively perfs that made “Sassy” so entertaining and also could easily lose half an hour from its running time. Outside specialist Asian events, most fests are likely to pass. On release early this year, pic clocked up a very respectable 1.5 million admissions, though total is far south of the boffo 4.5 million of “Sassy.”
In an interesting piece of casting, Son Ye-jin and Jo Seung-woo, who both made their screen debuts in Im Kwon-taek’s costumer “Chihwaseon,” play the star-crossed pair. Son, as college student Sung Ji-hye, provides early voiceover as she comes across her late mother’s diary. Though Ji-hye, in a clear tip of the hat to “Sassy Girl,” is initially portrayed as a slight ditz, pic doesn’t develop this side of her character as the story progresses.
As Ji-hye reads the diary, describing how her mom, Ju-heui (also Son), fell for the playful Oh Jun-ha (Jo), film flashbacks to the ’60s. Ju-heui, a congressman’s daughter, is being lined up for marriage to rich kid Yun Tae-su (Lee Gi-woo). He asks his schoolmate, Jun-ha, to pen poetic letters to Ju-heui not realizing that Jun-ha and Ju-heui have already become acquainted during the summer vacation.
That romantic tangle is cross-cut with a present-day one. Ji-hye gets the vapors over a handsome college student, Sang-min (Jo In-seong), who’s going out with her bitchy best friend (Lee Sang-in). As Ji-hye and Sang-min edge toward a relationship, Ju-heui and Jun-ha work out theirs in the past — with repercussions for the present.
Though the twist is clever and affectingly handled, knowledgeable auds will be expecting some kind of surprise and may already be ahead of the movie. Viewers new to the genre will be pleasantly surprised, even though the lead-up is leisurely.
Both Son and Jo are good as the putative leads, with the latter projecting plenty of boyish charm and the former drawing two distinct, equally likable characters as mother and daughter at the same age. Pic’s most successful moments are largely due to the two thesps’ chemistry.
Overall, there are too many sequences where helmer Kwak is content to play Vivaldi or Pachelbel over lustrous montages. However, the film’s accretion of small incidental details does reward repeat viewings, even if not on the level of “Sassy Girl.” Tech credits are tip-top, with Lee Jun-gyu’s widescreen lensing never less than sumptuous.