Review: Indian Summer (2001)

Directed by:
Cast: ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

If you can only take one memory with you when you die, what will it be? Jun-ha believes it will be the memory of a few summer days he spent with Shin-young, when both felt, perhaps for the first time, unashamedly happy and free.

Indian Summer is a courtroom drama that like other recent Korean films mobilises a unification metaphor in the service of a story about a problematic relationship. In films such as Bungee Jumping of Their Own, a film’s utilisation of this device doesn’t necessarily totalise its meanings into a statement about division or unification. Rather, the subject of the divided Koreas seems to provide filmmakers with an abundance of related and largely character-based plot ideas. The climax of Indian Summer might deploy an obvious and compelling visualisation of traumatic division, but the film is also — perhaps mostly — about repressing and carrying feelings of guilt with an associated nostalgia for better times in the past and in the possible future.

At first, the film moves at a quick pace. Jun-ha is a young hotshot who wears sneakers in court and does little to hide his liberal streak of idealism. Park Sin-yang (Kilimanjaro, Hi! Dharma) is at his best in smiling close-ups and handles the aspects of Jun-ha’s boyish immaturity pretty well (a lot of Korean actors are well versed in appearing cordial and likeable, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you compare them to the multitude of apparent wankers comprising our local export industry — any character Richard Roxburgh plays, for example). Lee Mi-yeon is given little else to do but mutely stare, however she believably portrays Shin-young’s hard demeanour and comfortably fills the conventional shoes of a woman suffering from han-induced patriarchal domination.

Once Shin-young is introduced as Jun-ha’s object of fascination, Indian Summer ambles along for a while as the question of how he will ‘save’ her takes precedence. A few fortunate incidents and legal loopholes do the job and we finally get out of the courtroom. It was at this point that I began to expect more from the dramatic situation. The ‘darker’ side of Shin-young’s psychological nature may have generated some interesting tensions that I felt were left unexplored. There was some nonsense about her not being able to leave her tormented home-life for the very fact of not having a good home-life to someday return to … dubious circularity like this needed to be explained in a way beyond simple dialogue.

In its exploration of justice and ethics Indian Summer has more affinities with conventional television melodrama than something like Joint Security Area, another courtroom drama that utilises a range of formal techniques to divert its generic status as such. But in comparison to the oh-so-clever plots of the all-too-mechanical John Grisham films out there, Indian Summer’s flaws help it generate emotive qualities.

6 re-trials out of 10.
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