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K-Drama Flashback: ‘Late Autumn’

In the late autumn of Seattle, two lost souls meet, but they have only three days

Debashree Dutta Mar 18, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of HanCinema

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Of all the romantic Korean movies I’ve watched to date, Late Autumn is one that never ceases to amaze me every time I re-watch it (I’ve seen the movie multiple times, to be honest). A critically acclaimed winner of several accolades, Late Autumn is a poignantly moving narrative exploring the unusual romance between two strangers of different nationalities, ‘Anna’ and ‘Hoon’, who meet at a peculiar juncture while on their way to Seattle. The 2010 film is a joint venture between South Korea, China, and the United States and is the fourth remake of Manhee’s classic melodrama of the same name.

One of my favorite Chinese actresses, Tang Wei, plays Anna, and South Korean superstar Hyunbin plays Hoon, a gigolo on the run for safety from a top businessman’s wrath for having a secret affair with his wife. Anna, on the other hand, is a captive charged with murdering her abusive husband. One day, she is notified of her mother’s death and is granted bail as well as freedom for 72 hours so she can attend the funeral and meet her family in Seattle. These two characters chance upon each other on a bus, and what follows is something inexplicably beautiful.

In my opinion, Late Autumn is Kim Taeyong’s directorial masterpiece, to say the least. It isn’t the regular Korean romance we are used to, but a rapture of feelings deep-seated within two souls longing for love. Two people (Hoon and Anna) who are having tough lives–Hoon the gigolo, the heartthrob who loves yet yearns for love. He pleases but is seemingly bruised from the inside. For Anna, survival has always been difficult. Her marriage was a disaster, with an abusive husband whom she was forced to kill and end up in prison. After seven years of servitude, when she gets three days of parole for the cause of her mother’s demise, she tries to experience a renewed sense of happiness, although she knows it’s transitory. Hoon, willingly, and Anna, unwillingly at first but with all her consent later, try to make the most of the little amount of time they have and experience the experiences of a lifetime.

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Anna’s internal struggles are understandable from her actions as she tries to fit into society while out of prison. She is hesitant, poker-faced, and constantly in a dilemma about her expressions. Hoon, by the way, is the opposite and leaves no stone unturned to flirt with Anna from the very first sight. There’s something about him nevertheless. He is fast, and so are his advances, but they are never forced. Anna is coy, torn between the bitter truths of her life and her own needs for fulfillment.

Photo: Courtesy of HanCinema
Photo: Courtesy of HanCinema

If you’ve watched the film, you know, but if you haven’t, here’s a small suggestion: don’t expect a happy closure. This is a story about living in the moment, about loving and being loved knowing there’s no tomorrow. Anna and Hoon’s journey is brief yet wholesome. There’s very little dialogue; the least number of verbal interactions. However, sometimes silence does speak louder than words. So, whatever little they exchange leaves a deep impact. A huge shoutout to Hyunbin’s English (which took my heart away). The two lost souls meet, fall for each other, share some quality time, their truths, and part ways. Just imagine the pangs of suffering the protagonists (thoroughly in love) must be going through when they bid goodbye to each other.

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Director Kim Taeyong’s treatment of this film is spellbinding with cinematographic brilliance, especially in terms of the tone he sets that aligns with the atmospheric details of late autumn in Seattle. There’s practically no warm tone, but a desaturated color palette that brilliantly works in favor of the somber mood throughout the narrative. Hyunbin and Tang Wei’s excellent acting skills bring their characters to life. The deglamorized look of Anna makes her look so beautiful; her simplicity is killing, her eyes exude her melancholy spirit, her loneliness, and Hoon, the drop-dead-gorgeous charmer with piercing eyes (always searching for Anna in between spells of their brief meetings) steals her heart. The man and the woman spend three days together, confiding in each other, experiencing love for another time, and sealing the moment with a belated kiss when it’s time to go separate ways.

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