This article was written By Adam Douglas on 07 Mar 2011, and is filed under Reviews.

Current post is tagged

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Adam Douglas

Adam Douglas is a writer, musician and English teacher. He currently calls Japan home.

Late Autumn (2010)

“What makes this movie so ambitious is the love story. If it doesn’t work, if you don’t believe it, then the whole thing is a disaster.” Matt Damon was talking about the sci-fi romance The Adjustment Bureau (2011), but he may as well have been talking about Late Autumn, a high-profile remake of the 1960s Korean film of the same name (now lost) that’s also been remade before, twice in Korea and once in Japan. Its ambitiousness comes from the fact that it was shot in America, with its two leads, the Chinese actress Tang Wei and Korean actor Hyeon Bin, speaking mostly English, a language neither of them is all that familiar with.

The question has to be asked: why not just shoot Late Autumn in Korea with two Korean actors? It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble and likely would have prevented the kinds of problems that arise when making this kind of movie. It may not have saved the movie—the problems with this film go deeper than just bad accents—but it could have made a big difference.

Tang Wei plays Anna, a Chinese American woman convicted of killing her abusive husband in self-defense. After seven years in prison, she learns that her mother has died, and so is granted a 72-hour reprieve to attend the funeral in Seattle. While on the bus, she meets Hoon (a very lively Hyeon Bin), an escort for rich, married Korean women. Hoon needs to borrow $30 to cover his bus fare and decides to ask Anna, at first speaking Korean to her and then switching to English when she doesn’t respond. Anna loans him the money, telling him tersely that he doesn’t need to pay her back. She makes it obvious that she’s not interested in talking to anyone, but Hoon keeps at it, making small talk throughout the trip and again in Seattle, when a chance encounter brings the two together again. And so begins their tentative romance, with Hoon advancing charmingly and Anna retreating behind the wall she has erected between herself and the world.

Both actors do a fine job with the characters they’ve been given. The director and screenwriter, Kim Tae-Yong, best known in the West for the horror film Memento Mori (1999), wisely keeps the dialogue between the two leads to minimum. Tang Wei is wonderful to watch, her eyes and facial movements saying everything her halting English cannot. Hyeon Bin, sporting the kind of pompadour usually seen on Tadanobu Asano or Jo Odagiri, is disarmingly charming, with an attentiveness to women’s needs born from his profession. But here’s the mistake the movie makes: it doesn’t let Anna out from behind her wall until it’s too late. All the while, I was wondering why Hoon was so smitten with Anna. There’s nothing in his character, either spoken or shown, that would give him this drive. It’s merely a conceit of the script: two characters meet and fall in love, whether they want to or not (and whether the audience cares or not).

The Rendezvous, the 1972 Japanese remake, is an example of how the same material can be transported to another country and still be successful. In Saito Koichi’s version, the woman is older and the man younger, age forming the barrier that the two must overcome. Although the woman (played by the great Kishi Keiko) is also emotionally withdrawn, we see her gradually thaw, her facial expressions subtly revealing a woman who doesn’t want to have to hide her feelings all the time. That they’re something of two of a kind is apparent in the man’s nervous laugh; he tries to come off as cool but can’t help showing his vulnerability.

Compare this to the two leads in the modern Late Autumn. Both are emotionally distant for the bulk of the film. Anna has her wall and Hoon has his confidence. That they end up together at all is a contrivance of the script. But the film keeps insisting that they’ve fallen madly in love, going so far as to force the two leads into an overly long and intimate kiss. As the kiss dragged on, shot in close-up to force an intimacy that was never there, I almost had to look away. I became embarrassed for the two actors, dutifully engaging in a kiss that belonged in a different movie entirely.

So, why is this movie set in America, with its leads from two different Asian countries? My guess is the producers were trying to hedge their bets and get the film into as many different markets as possible. It’ll play well in Korea, China and English-speaking countries, right? Wrong. By having your leads do all their acting in phonetic English, you alienate not only the English-speaking audience but the actors from each other. How can they be expected to develop any chemistry and to really inhabit these characters, when they don’t even know what they’re saying?

Kim Tae-Yong obviously wanted to make a classic love story. The seriousness with which he treats the material—very little music, lots of close-ups—is overwhelming. Yet you wonder if he even read his own script. Given the source material, the seed for a good movie is there. It’s just unfortunate that that’s not what we ended up with.

Related posts:

Alien Vs Ninja (2010)
Scenes Of City Life (China, 1935)
Make Up (Taiwan, 2011) [NYAFF 2012]


  1. amy
    7 March, 2011

    Was their English that bad? This whole business with leads that don’t speak the same language reminded me of Kim Kiduk’s Dream, with the dialog in Japanese and Korean… and maybe The Warrior and the Wolf? Coincidently both starring Odagiri Joe.

    I’m still interested in what Tang Wei can do. By the way, that second still with her resembles Ok-bin a lot. I almost thought it was her.

  2. Adam
    8 March, 2011

    Amy, it was bad enough to be distracting, particularly when they became angry, etc. Actually I would have preferred a Dream-type situation. It’s hard for any actor, no matter how good, to act phonetically, I believe.

  3. Marc
    8 March, 2011

    Have you seen Hur Jin-ho’s A GOOD RAIN KNOWS? It also has two actors using English (one Korean, one Chinese). I think it’s a bit of a detriment but ends up working OK.

  4. Julili
    8 March, 2011

    Aww! I was setting my hope high for this one! *sadface*
    I was so sad when it was cancelled last year at the Stockholm Film festival. Not that I knew much about Hyun Bin then but the movie seemed interesting.
    It was with Secret Garden that I got the Hyun Bin fever so I have been wanting to watch more with him…. now I don’t know if I should watch this or not….

  5. Adam
    8 March, 2011

    Marc, I haven’t seen that film. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    Julili, Hyeon Bin is incredibly popular here in Korea. He just entered into his obligatory military service and people came from all over Korea and Asia to wish him good luck and cry. And by “people” I mean middle aged women. Military service is two years so there will likely be a gap in his output, although I’m sure he has some stuff already in the can. He’s very charming in Late Autumn, for sure. I just don’t think it’s a successful movie on the whole.

  6. lee
    19 June, 2011

    I just saw the movie last night and I agree…it was forced, the bad English made it worse and uncomfortable to sit through. I couldn’t understand why Hoon kept pursuing her when there was no motive except that he was following a script. The kissing scene was forced and had no feeling of romanticism for me. The script was horrible overall. I think given what they had, the actors did a great job and the scenery was beautiful. I wasn’t convinced and came out of the movie feeling unsatisfied.

  7. […] that’s set in Seattle. Both characters speak mostly in English, which posed a problem for Adam Douglas at VCinema: “By having your leads do all their acting in phonetic English, you alienate not only the […]

  8. Ash
    26 June, 2011

    I really want to watch this film. But it doesn’t air here in Chicago. Does anyone know where I can watch it? Will it be coming on DVD anytime soon? I love Hyeon Bin, I think he’s a marvelous actor, and so I cannot wait to watch this film! The trailers look so good! I’m really eager to see this film!

  9. rainonmebi
    28 February, 2012

    this is a really great review, took the words right ou tof my mouth. that kiss was PAINFUL. why was it so long!?

  10. Rose T
    22 October, 2014

    I finally watched this movie after waiting for so long. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with it. It dragged on and on. Altough the acting both of Tang Wei and Hyeon Bin are good, the script could have been better.

Leave a Reply