Forever With You (그대와 영원히, Yoo Hyeon-mok: 1958)

The night before he is released from prison Gwang-pil tells a fellow inmate the story behind his ten year incarceration. As a young boy Gwang-pil ran the streets with his friends Dal-soo and Sang-moon, picking pockets and stealing to make their money. During a failed attempt to rob a warehouse Gwang-pil is caught and sent to prison, while the other two escape the clutches of the law. Driven wild by his love for a young girl by the name of Ae-ran, Gwang-pil escapes from prison with the hope of running away with her, but instead he only manages to deepen the downward spiral that his life seems set upon…

Although far from the first of his films as director (that would be The Crossroad (1956)) Forever With You appears to be the earliest existing work from director Yoo Hyeon-mok. Released only a few years before his ground-breaking and career defining emotional-powerhouse Aimless Bullet (1962), a film that is often refered to as the ‘best Korean film’ made, Forever With You finds the director in a melodrama mode that offers a few glimpses into his future direction and is an interesting example of some of Yoo’s visual strengths which he would exploit more thoroughly in his later work.

Ultimately it’s the direction from Yoo Hyeon-mok that holds our attention

Both a cautionary tale and standard crime melodrama, Forever With You is a simple tale of love and friendship, albeit one with a fairly sophisticated moral centre with regards to class, religion, breaking the law and relationships. While this adds at least a moderate level of depth to the film, there’s also several key aspects that prevent Forever With You from becoming a run of the mill dramatic exercise. There’s some strong performances that, admittedly, do on occasion feel a little too broad but – given the passing of time throughout the film (over ten years) – the transition of the central cast from teenage years well into adulthood is carried off well. A decent, but familiar, narrative keeps things moving along and balances social observation with the dramatics. Ultimately it’s the direction from Yoo Hyeon-mok that holds our attention. A studio film shot on stages, Forever With You finds Yoo making use of techniques to establish proceedings on a large visual scale through the use of crane shots and the the constant movement of the camera to create striking images with technically impressive cinematography. This is also helped by a sense of briskness in the pacing of the editing which prevents scenes from becoming over indulgent. While Yoo would always retain a highly visual style of fimmaking – and Forever With You makes strong use of reoccurring visual motifs, something that would become a trademark of his style – he would (beginning with Aimless Bullet) later largely try to jettison the studio style of filmmaking wherever possible in favour of a more naturalistic style of shooting (using real streets and buildings) while still retaining a strong use of camera movement. In Forever With You though, Yoo explores the unwinding drama with some remarkable visuals: the opening shot – a pan from a group of children playing out on the street up over a high prison wall manages to pretty much summarises the film as a whole, while scenes within the prison make for an interesting use of space as the camera gazes around and through the bars and across different levels of the building (an image repeated later on when Gwang-pil is freed from prison but discovers the truth about the packages he has been receiving).

There’s a sense of the inevitable that pervades throughout Forever With You: every time Gwang-pil throws back another drink you know he’s succumbing to his surroundings, Yoo’s on-going consideration of Christianity is present in the form of a priest who manages to provide hope to those around him but who is ineffectual in changing circumstances by himself, while the musical refrain of ‘Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)’ invokes a sense of struggling against destiny rather than being comfortably resigned to it – a resurfacing theme in Yoo’s work. It’s not all miserable though – regardless of this apparent cynicism within the sociological aspects of the film (delivered in a manner that might be considered film noir,) Forever With You still manages to conclude with sense of hope.

At under two hours Forever With You doesn’t outstay its welcome – the deliberate pacing and careful timing of its key melodramatic twists ensure that plenty of time is given to establish its central protagonists and to unwind its narrative, the stylistic use of imagery and themes are manage to sustain interest without ever becoming self indulgent. Ultimately though its key selling point is its position as a piece of work by a the director credited with bringing a new realism to Korean cinema with the release of Aimless Bullet, and although Forever With You feels light in comparison it still manages to illustrate Yoo Hyeon-mok’s mastery of image and technical flourishes while still being an enjoyable enough film in its own right.

그대와 영원히 (Forever With You)
Directed by Yoo Hyeon-mok
Produced by Bang Date-hun
Written by Park Seong-ho
Starring Lee Yong, Do Kum-bong, Choe Bong, Choi Myung-soo, Choi Nam-hyun

Forever With You Image © Sam Sung Films Co. Ltd