my_love_dont_cross_that_river_1Year: 2015
Director: Mo-yeong Jin
Writer(s): N/A
Region of Origin: Korea
Rating: N/A
Digital, Color, 86 mins

Synopsis: A couple who have lived together for 76 years faces the last moment of their marriage. (Source)

If you’re going to watch the Korean documentary My Love, Don’t Cross that River, by director Mo-yeong Jin, be prepared to cry. At it’s core, the human experience is about connection, and it’s exactly this, in its purest form that Mo-yeong has captured through the final months of a nonagenarian couple’s 76-year marriage. In the most piercing and intimate way, the couple shows us what truly matters most – that life doesn’t last forever, and that there isn’t anything more important than the love and memories we share with another person. It’s an intimate portrait of devotion, loss and ultimately the joy that connects the two.

The film begins with weeping, as a widowed Kye-yeol Kang kneels against a snow covered landscape with a burning fire in the distance. From there, the film takes us back to another time, where Kang and her husband Byeong-man Jo are cleaning up fallen leaves in front of their home. Just as she’s compiled a neat collection of the littered foliage, Jo picks up as much as he can hold and begins to shower her with them. The pair engage in a heartwarming exchange that shows you’re never to old to play, and is followed up with Jo giving Kang a special hand-picked selection of flowers. It’s in this first instance with the couple where we realize that no matter how old they are, their childlike awe and love of each other is something that hasn’t aged. Filmed over a period of 15 months in the couple’s sleepy mountain province of Gangwon, the film takes us through their daily routines, playing with their dogs, having snowball fights, celebrating birthdays, going on field trips, shopping, enjoying meals and even ruminating on past regrets, to contrast their happiness with the melancholy knowledge that none of it will last for much longer.

my_love_dont_cross_that_river_2Director Mo-yeong doesn’t bother to acquaint us with the usual details at first, but rather begins the film by dropping us right in the middle of things, allowing the couple’s actions to speak for themselves, and letting us understand the pair organically as we learn more about their relationship. As the seasons change, they thrive in their small isolated town, wearing traditional Korean garments and remaining far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Their simple life is a reminder that we don’t need anything more than each other to be happy, and as Mo-yeong contrasts the passage of their relationship with the indigenous nature that surrounds them, he punctuates the transience of humanity and the couple’s eternal bond of love with powerful metaphors. Through it all, the enigma of nature’s grace is captured as well, such as when one of the couple’s dog gives birth to a litter of puppies just as Byeong-man falls ill. Objectively, there isn’t anything special about the overall presentation, but it’s better that way, giving us an unobtrusive view into the couple’s love and allowing us to be alongside them as things go from good to worse.

As Kye-yeol Kang and Jo Byeong-man’s bodies begin to break down and betray them in different ways, seeing their love only get stronger is something powerful to behold. And while My Love, Don’t Cross that River is such a devastating story, it’s one that celebrates life and love, showing us that true happiness only exists against the backdrop of inevitable sadness. What we’re left with is a life changing, epic romance that doesn’t sugarcoat life’s devastating moments, but just as in life, light far outshines the dark, if you know where to look for it.