The year is 1963 and in the rural Kang Won province of Korea a dashing new teacher sets hearts a-flutter and a love triangle in motion in Lee Young-jae’s gentle love story.
Lee Young-jae’s debut feature is a beautifully simplistic antidote to the Hollywood romance. Telling the sweet and unaffected tale of a first love, The Harmonium in My Memory is a subtly engaging rural drama with a delicately balanced affection at its core. Yun Hong-yeon (Jeon Do-yeon) is 17 and when good looking and kindly young teacher Mr.Kang (Lee Byeong-heon) comes to town he immediately captures her heart. Unfortunately for Hong-yeon, however, Mr.Kang is in turn rather taken with pretty fellow teacher Miss Yang (Lee Mi-yeon) and the attempts by each to woo the object of their affection make up this lovely, touching, and, above all else, completely uncontrived drama.
Where a Hollywood director would gleefully take the subject of a schoolgirl’s first crush and manipulate it, patronise, or unnecessarily sexualise it, Young-jae allows the universally familiar tale of first love speak for itself. The dual love story makes for some wonderful mirroring as Hong-yeon tries in vain to grasp her child-like crush and Mr.Kang and Miss Yang’s almost-love has a child-like innocence as if being regressed through Hong-yeon’s own troubled affections. With the rustic setting as imperative to the understated story as the wonderfully easy characterisation, this film is as beautiful visually as it is emotionally.
The basic existence and remote setting make for a delightfully uncomplicated and nostalgic backdrop as Harmonium proves to be as much about a way of life as it is a love story. The early 60’s makes for a well placed era as a setting, too, as the village has begun to be touched slightly by modern living, helped by Mr.Kang and his record collection, which aids the subtle musical theme (the original Korean title literally translates as The Organ in My Heart.) The fact that Young-jae hasn’t overloaded the film with themes and visual tricks makes the few stand out all the more, including the vignettes which again add a nice sense of nostalgia to it. The subtle charm of the film makes for some natural and gentle humour and the beautifully played performances and direction ensure the delicate emotional changes are as lightly perceptible as they were meant. The calm ease of the pace and the gentle nature of this film mean Harmonium won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those who enjoy a delicate love story in a wonderfully rustic setting, this is a must-see.
A gently crafted, beautiful and sweet film, Harmonium in My Memory is completely devoid of the contrived whimsy of the Hollywood love story and as such is a refreshing joy to watch.
Also Known As:
Organ of My Heart (literal English title)
Nae maeumui punggeum (Original title in Korea)