"Christmas in August" ("Palwolui Christmas" in Korean) has built up quite a fan base in Asia. In addition to winning best film at the 1998 Korean Film Awards, it has also won awards at various Asian film festivals. I has even inspired a Japanese remake under the title of "Hachigatsu no Kurisumasu".
The story primary revolves around the character Jung-won (played by Han Suk-kyu), a young, quiet, and seemingly carefree proprietor of a photography studio. However, Jung-won has to live with a secret only he, his father, and his sister knows. He is infected with a terminal disease. And he has decided to live out the rest of his days peacefully running his small photography business in Seoul.
His plans are spoiled though when a new woman enters his life. Da-rim (played by Shim Eun-ha) is a meter maid who becomes a frequent customer with picture of parking violators. And although Jung-won knew he should not get involved given his circumstances, a relationship does gradually form between the two.
There is not much of a plot to this film. It is more so an in-depth look at the character of Jung-won and how he deals with the people in his life during his last days. We get a sense of the uncomfortable silence among his family members since they are aware of the inevitable. We see how Jung-won tries to hold back his emotion with his friends. And of course, we see how this unexpected relationship with Da-rim affects him and how he responds to it. Many of us may take the people around us for granted. But through this character whose time is limited, we see how much we are all affected by each other.
In addition to not having much of a plot, it is interesting to note that there actually isn't much dialog in the film either. Because of this, many parts of the film seem to drag on. However, in some ways, it also works. The outside shots of the street, the awkward silences between the characters, and even the scenes of Jung-won doing his job all help set the tone of the film and express the isolation Jung-won is feeling.
Another interesting aspect of this film is its subtleness. Even though we get a sense of how Jung-won and Da-rim's feel about each other, there was never a formal declaration of their feelings. Jung-won never talks about this illness, but yet we see how it affects him and his relationships. Even the actual illness Jung-won suffers from is never disclosed. Instead, the story is told very subtly with the actions of the characters and their facial expressions. And although that leaves things a little too open for interpretation, it also makes the film that much more thought provoking.
With "Christmas in August", director Hur Jin-Ho gives us a touching film of a quiet, dying man and how he deals with his last days and the prospect of a new romance. This film definitely has its moments, and the actors did a great job telling the story without much dialog. However, I personally found it to be a little too slow paced overall for me to fully enjoy the film.