Past Lives

Past Lives

I was making a list recently of all the new-ish films that I needed to catch up on. I was also trying to work out which film was on what streaming service. Past Lives was a problem, because it didn’t seem to be in any of the usual places (Mubi, BFI Player), but in Fopp on New Year’s Day I saw that it was now out on physical discs and for many reasons I prefer them over anything else.

So I came home with a Blu Ray and put it on in the early evening that same day.

It’s magnificent.

I know I’m late to this party, and when, after I’d finished watching it, I did some Googling, I saw quite how many awards it’s already up for.

The story might seem very slight – a couple of Korean kids have a burgeoning relationship but her family emigrates to Canada, and that’s that. 12 years later, he leaves a message somewhere on Facebook. She’s mucking around looking up old friends and they get chatting. He’s still in Seoul, she is now in New York beginning her writing career. Neither is able to travel.

And then things stop. She meets someone else, as does he.

And then we reach the present day. As the film opens, a pair of observers in a New York bar try their hand at working out the relationship of those sitting in the bar. Who is with who? Are they friends? Lovers? Married? What? From that opening, we are led from their shared childhood to the present day.

Written and directed by Celine Song, herself a South Korean-Canadian, this is just pitch perfect on every level. The lives are believable; the behaviours are acutely observed; the silences are just gorgeous.

This isn’t a film where much happens. There are no explosive revelations – the liveliest it ever gets is when Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) is getting drunk with his friends in Seoul bars. But it just oozes perfection. And Greta Lee who plays Nora, is just incredible. She has married Arthur (John Magaro), who has tried, but mostly failed to learn Korean. And the relationship between Nora and Arthur is thus complex. He’s upset that when she speaks in her sleep, it’s in Korean and not English.

I was just completely enraptured by Past Lives. It looks beautiful as well, and there are clever details in the background. Scenes just feel like they’re playing out in a real way. The Skype video calls are as clumsy as we’ve all probably forgotten since our internet got better and we got things like Zoom and Facetime.

What this film actually reminded me most of, was Wong Kar-wai’s masterpiece, In The Mood For Love – and I appreciate that I’m not alone in thinking that. Indeed, I actually re-watched that film afterwards, and you know what? I think I prefer Past Lives (OK – while the Past Lives soundtrack is great, the soundtrack for In The Mood For Love is wonderful!).

Honestly, don’t wait for it to arrive on whichever streamer it eventually emerges on. Buy the Blu Ray (or DVD if you must), or pay for streaming rental.

A side note on Wong Kar-wai. He’s one of those people who I always look out for new work from, but there’s been nothing in years. But it turns out that CCTV-8 and Tencent Video in China have just started airing his new 30 part (!) TV series called Blossoms Shanghai. There is absolutely zero news of any release outside of China, but the only English-language review I can find suggests it’s “elegiac but tedious.” In part that seems to be down to Chinese TV ordering enormous numbers of episodes of shows. 30 is actually a low order. Who knows if, and when, it’ll appear somewhere in the West?





2 responses to “Past Lives”

  1. Kevin Spencer avatar

    I want to see this. Greta Lee is pretty great in The Morning Show.

  2. adambowie avatar

    I need to catch up with The Morning Show. I was put off by some of the season 2 reviews, although I believe it got better again.

    She’s wonderful in Past Lives…