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Festival Film Review: Spring Snow — on the value of the priceless

Spring Snow posterSpring Snow, the final film of this year’s London Korean Film Festival, was shown at London’s ICA on November 11. The film falls into a Korean tradition of documentary drama films such as Lee Man-hee’s A Day Off.

Kim Soon-ok, played very well by Yoon Suk Hwa (윤석화), is an aging mother and wife. She works as a cleaner, and is ignored by her husband, who stays at home and tells her he is too ill to work himself and pay the household bills. Her son works in an office in Seoul, and her daughter still lives with her and her husband in their apartment in Busan. She has just been told she is to be made redundant, when both she and her family receive the additional terrible shock of cancer diagnosis. Soon-ok is given six months to live by her doctors.

Spring Snow: Kim Soon-ok (Yoon Suk Hwa) in happier times
Soon-ok in happier times

The film shows Soon-ok going through the various stages of cancer, as the disease progresses on her, including all the traumas of chemotherapy. The film pulls no punches about the disease and I found it at times difficult to watch.

The film also shows some of the realities of healthcare in South Korea. Soon-ok receives proper cancer care in the film because she has taken care to always keep healthcare insurance in all her previous jobs working as a cleaner.

Soon-ok is worried about how her family will fare once she is gone. After her cremation her husband, wife and daughter open her letters to each of them, and as they read her words, they realize what they have actually lost for the first time.

Spring Snow: Sook-ok's family
Soon-ok’s concern is for her family

The film ends optimistically however, as it shows that her husband mends his ways following her death, and opens a fruit and vegetable story to earn his living. There was a question and answer session with Yoon Suk Hwa in person before the film, during which she told the audience that she is currently playing roles in West End shows, the ‘Top Hat’ and ‘From Here to Eternity’.

If you want to know about some of the realities of modern South Korean life, both positive and difficult, there is no better place to start than Spring Snow.

Kim Tae-gyun (김태균) Spring Snow (봄, 눈 2012) score-2score-2score-2score-2score-0

(Note: The Kim Tae-gyun who directed Spring Snow is not to be confused with the other Kim Tae-gyun, director of Volcano High, Barefoot Dream etc)

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