Heart-warming indie documentary on elderly couple tops South Korea's box office

A documentary about a couple who have been married for 76 years is storming the Korean box office, with more than 1 million tickets sold so far, a rare feat for an indie-film in Korea. -- PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE 
A documentary about a couple who have been married for 76 years is storming the Korean box office, with more than 1 million tickets sold so far, a rare feat for an indie-film in Korea. -- PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE 

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -A documentary about a couple who have been married for 76 years is storming the box office, with more than 1 million tickets sold so far, a rare feat for an indie-film in Korea.

My Love, Don't Cross That River, directed by Jin Mo Young, nabbed the top spot on Korea's box office chart over the weekend, beating out blockbusters Exodus and Interstellar.

It has attracted 1.06 million viewers since its Nov 26 premiere, according to the state-run Korea Film Council.

It seems only a matter of time before the film breaks the previous box office record for a documentary Korean indie film, held by the 2009 film Old Partner viewed by 2.93 million.

The 86-minute film centres on a real-life couple, 98-year-old Jo Byeong Man and his 89-year-old wife Kang Kye Yeol's simple and happy life in a mountain village in Hoengseong, Gangwon province.

Their story was first aired in five episodes of a TV documentary series entitled, Grey-haired Lovers on the nationwide network KBS in 2011. The director, after watching them on the small screen, took his camera to the village and filmed them for 15 months from September 2012. The couple hold hands, while wearing matching colourful hanbok (traditional clothes) wherever they go.

In spring, they pick flowers together; in summer, they hang out by a lake splashing water at each other. The documentary is not peppered with narration nor further explanation; the camera just zooms in on the couple.

But the story takes a turn when their beloved dog dies and, apparently as a consequence, Byeong Man's body slowly weakens. The couple prepares to bid farewell to each other.

The film first opened on 186 screens across the country but was on 806 screens in its third week - the most for a documentary film.

"The film's realistic portrayal of an old couple was very heartwarming," said Chung Hye Ran, a housewife in her 50s who watched the film with her husband. "Watching the film made me wanted to age with my husband just like them - find happiness in simple things in life." Chung also noted that she was surprised to see the theatre filled with people in their 20s and 30s.

That it is more popular among young people is an unexpected outcome. Even the director had people in their 40s and 50s in mind as the film's main audience.

According to data compiled by Korea's largest multiplex chain CGV on their members, people in their 20s account for 54.2 per cent of the total viewers of the film. People in their 30s were second with 24.3 per cent, followed by those in their 40s with 15.5 per cent.

"We live in such a society where everything changes so rapidly, including relationships," said Kim Eun Ah, a 28-year-old female office worker. "I was inspired by their commitment and devotion that sustained for such a long period, which unfortunately is hard to find these days."

"The documentary centres on an elderly couple, but it is a story of love - a real one that lasted for a lifetime," said Choi Kyong Mi of Creative Communication SKY, the PR company of the film. She thinks that the audiences were able to connect with the universal theme of love portrayed in the film.