Featuring an inventive endless-love story that transgresses time and death in order to explore various individual resistances and social restrictions that affect gay relationships, this is either a successfully emotive queer movie with unusually straight overtones, or a somewhat fleeting and dissatisfying attempt to capture gestures and images of homosexual love, or both these coded types at once.
Maybe I’m a sucker for surface narration in this particular film, because the moments near the end struck a literal chord as I embraced the idea that love can endure and rekindle in astonishing transformative ways. What this movie tries to tell us in an explicit fashion is that when you’re in love it shouldn’t matter what kinds of obstacles get in the way. It really savours and complicates this point by having In-woo’s (JSA’s Lee Byung-hun) dead female flame Tae-hee (Lee Eun-ju from Lover’s Concerto) live again within the body of his new young male student, Hyun-bin (Yea Hyun-soo) — thus resolving from the dominant obstacle a secondary theme in the form of a social issue. Where the system of identification may fall apart for gay audiences, though, is the emphasis (visualised and given voice at the climax) that In-woo’s love exists for Tae-hee, but not strictly for Hyun-bin who himself becomes part of this narrative game of avoiding or ignoring obstacles. As I suggested above, however, multiple potential readings are on offer here. I’d like to think that anyone with a soft spot for the concept of undying love will find watching Bungee Jumping a fulfilling experience regardless of their sexual orientation.
Like many contemporary South Korean films, it would be very easy to leap to the conclusion that Bungee Jumping is an allegory for reunification. Of course it is true that boundaries are successfully navigated and crossed in this film, but rather than suggest it engages with a concrete socio-political issue, why not admire instead the remarkably original and fascinating way it incorporates the notion of division with another very different issue currently receiving less cultural attention in Korea? Anyone seeking an extremely moronic version of the reunification metaphor in a Korean film should check out The Coast Guard. Kim Ki-duk’s film unveils an astonishingly preposterous final shot almost, it seems, for the sake of making meaning out of nothing in particular. In contrast, Bungee Jumping provides us with an excellent example of how perceptive Korean filmmakers can choose not to say precisely the things that everyone expects them to say.
Recommending films via a system of comparison is always tricky, but my personal range of thoughts and feelings about Bungee Jumping are similar to those I have for Blue Gate Crossing. While the Taiwanese film offers a more insightful depiction of how people handle intimate relationships and struggle with questions of sexual identity, both films reach poignant and nostalgic conclusions in a very natural manner. Although it operates with an outlandish mystical concept, it’s easy to relate to the emotional subject material Bungee Jumping evokes and that to me signals a fine work.