It’s been a long time between drinks for Jung Ji-woo, whose impressive first feature, “Happy End,” opened Cannes’ Critics’ Week five years ago. But the wait has been worthwhile for “Blossom Again,” a poised, brainteasingly plotted meller centered on a love affair between a teacher and her teenage student. Carried by a luminous perf from actress Kim Jeong-eun, this semi-arty, semi-commercial pic tanked locally in its late September release, but deserves festival exposure in the West, with some Euro sales possible.
Film has unfortunately been saddled, at the director’s insistence, with a sappy new English title. Original was the much more atmospheric “Close to You,” which catches the metaphysical intensity of what’s basically a chamber drama.
Pic leaps straight into things, with 30-year-old Jo In-yeong (Kim), a teacher at a private Seoul school, shown besotted with 17-year-old pupil Lee Seok (Lee Tae-seong) during one of her night classes. (Their respective ages become an important plot point later on.)
After giving him a lift home, she blurts out her feelings, and the two talk in her car. Back home, her live-in b.f., Jeong-woo (Kim Yeong-jae), seems strangely untroubled by her fascination for the youth.
Cut to a pigtailed teenage girl, also called Jo In-yeong (Jeong Yu-mi), whose b.f., Lee Su (also Lee), dies in a traffic accident. At the funeral, she meets his twin brother, Lee Seok (Lee again), and a romance develops, with the youngsters eventually making love. This strand is crosscut with the developing story of the teacher and the pupil that eventually brings out the hidden rebel in In-yeong’s nature.
At the pic’s halfway point, as the teenage girl goes to visit her b.f. in Seoul, the script completely reverses what the audience has been led to believe. It’s the start of a complex series of connections between all the characters that presupposes a cyclical element to falling in love — and how the same choices and mistakes are made across generations.
Film strongly recalls the time-bending mellers made some five years ago in South Korea (“Ditto,” “Il Mare,” etc.), which makes the film much more than just a drama about a “taboo” love affair.
That aspect of the relationship is, in fact, hardly discussed; and as the long dinner scene that climaxes the pic gradually unfolds, with the older In-yeong facing the past, present and future of her emotional life, “Blossom Again” takes on a mellowness similar to the wonderful closing scenes of Claude Sautet’s “Une histoire simple.”
As with “Happy End,” Jung shows himself a talented director of women, drawing a remarkable performance from KimJeong-eun, more often seen in comic roles. The whole film is, literally, in her eyes (nervous, uncomprehending, laughing), with the camera often just holding the actress’s face in closeup.
As the younger In-yeong, Jeong handles a tricky role with sensitivity. Of the men, Lee largely remains an enigma as the pupil; Kim Yeong-jae is more fully fleshed as the teacher’s live-in boyfriend.
Tech package is impeccable, led by Choi Hyeon-gi’s saturated lensing. Film’s Korean title, for reasons that become clear near the end, means “Wisdom Tooth.”