Highlight reel, tears and all, this movie moved me deeply, and I would watch this again in a heartbeat.
Throughout this movie, all of our main characters radiate a warmth, strength and resilience that one can’t help but admire.
Our characters are basically just regular folks living their lives, when life serves up not one, but several, lemons. Not only does our main couple get bewilderedly pregnant at age 17, their son is born with Progeria, a rare genetic defect that causes him to age at a highly accelerated rate.
Both Kang Dong Won and Song Hye Kyo are pitch-perfect and wonderful as Dae Soo and Mi Ra, our hapless teenage couple that quickly finds themselves facing parenthood.
Kudos to both actors – and PD-nim as well, and the makeup folks, and the camera folks, too – for bringing us flashbacks of their teenage cluelessness that are not only refreshingly convincing, but also very amusing.
One of my favorite things in the show, is the way both Dae Soo and Mi Ra refuse to allow their son Ah Reum (Jo Sung Mok) to feel ashamed of being different from other kids.
I love the matter-of-fact way they go about their lives, dealing with any and all Progeria issues that come up, with a wonderful mix of pragmatic levelheadedness and lots of love.
I particularly love this little scene, where Ah Reum feels embarrassed by people’s stares as he walks down the street with Mom, and asks Mom if she doesn’t feel embarrassed too.
I just love how Mom stops right there on the street to give him a pep talk, telling him that people look at him coz he’s handsome like a celebrity with his sunglasses on, that he’s got nothing to be ashamed of, and that he’s doing a great job as a kid with a medical condition.
In her trademark matter-of-fact, don’t-even-think-about-arguing-with-me way, Mom tells Ah Reum, “Your uncle cried like a baby after his circumcision, when he was your age. But you went through treatments that are far worse… Not everyone can do that. You’re doing something incredible. So, walk proud and let them stare, got it?”
That kind of “I simply won’t let you be ashamed of yourself” tough love is golden, and was one of my favorite things in the show.
Of course, there are poignant moments too, and Dae Soo and Mi Ra can’t help but despair in private over their son’s degenerating condition.
Both Kang Dong Won and Song Hye Kyo deliver masterfully, imbuing even the brightest moments in the show, with an almost imperceptible underlying sadness that is full of pathos, and the more melancholic scenes with a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking sorrow.
They gave me chills, with their wonderful portrayal of parents simply doing the best they can for their child, with as much courage as they can humanly muster.
The breakout star of this show, for me, though, is Jo Sung Mok, who plays Ah Reum with a startlingly deep sense of old-soul measuredness, wisdom and resilience.
Whenever he appeared on my screen, I could feel just how deep he was reaching into his soul, to be strong for his parents; to make the most out of his life, not only for their sakes, but also for his own.
It floors me that this is literally Jo Sung Mok’s debut. His debut!
I mean, if he’s delivering so much emotional resonance at age 14, what kind of powerhouse will he be in another ten years? My brain. It struggles to compute.
But you get the idea. Jo Sung Mok is amazing, and believable, and engaging, and.. have I mentioned he’s amazing?
While any scene with Ah Reum in it tugged at my heartstrings, there are several highlights that must be mentioned.
1. I loved all of his scenes with his bestie, Grandpa Jang (Baek Il Sub).
Despite the outward incongruence of a tiny kid and an old gramps sharing old-man talk together, this friendship, with all its outer gruffness, really moved me.
Sure, they were completely different in age and size, but they both understood the pains of aging, and they comforted each other, each in their unique, old-man, old-soul ways.
2. I loved all of Ah Reum’s scenes with Mom.
Even though both Mom and Dad love Ah Reum dearly, it’s Mom who dispenses all the gentle tenderness that Ah Reum needs. And it’s with Mom that Ah Reum has his deepest conversations; about love, about the future, about life.
Their scenes warmed my heart to overflowing, and then some.
3. I loved Ah Reum’s scenes with Dad.
With Dad pretty much being an overgrown kid himself, the dynamic between Ah Reum and Dad is completely different from that between Ah Reum and Mom.
I love that Dad interacts with Ah Reum almost like a playmate would, and even shares his toys. In a world where Ah Reum lacks friends his own age, I felt that Dad filling that role meant a lot to him.
Even more than that, though, I love how darn proud Dad is, of his son.
Their exchanges are simple, but so full of true emotion.
A great example of this, is when, in the later stretch of the movie, Dad and Ah Reum go star-gazing together.
Quietly, as they lie down looking up at the night sky, Ah Reum says to Dad, “I feel so happy being here with you, watching the stars. I’m especially happy that you’re my father.”
And Dad responds in his simple, forthright way, “Me too. I’m so happy you’re my son. Good kids like you should never be sick.”
So understated, but still so sweet. Love.
In the end, while the movie’s message isn’t ground-breakingly new, it delivers that message with so much heart and so much quiet, dignified determination, that it hits home in a deeply profound way.
Indeed, it truly isn’t about how long you live, but how well you live.
Thank you for reminding us of that timeless truth, Mom, Dad and Ah Reum. And thank you, too, for now making us all want to hug our families. *tear*
Deeply heartwarming, soul-wrenchingly moving, and completely inspiring.
It was co-written and directed by E J-yong based on the 2011 novel My Palpitating Life by Kim Aeran.
2014 (34th) Hawaii Internasional Film Festival. My Brilliant Life won the Third Place Audience Award at the 17th Udine Far East Film Festival in 2015.