Lee Hyunju’s debut film centres around the everyday bumps and sharp turns of a new relationship, the normalcy of quiet, buoyant tension and the tenderness of fresh love between two girls. Lee, a graduate of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, is eager to tell love stories of all kinds. Lesbian-focused content is perceived as taboo in South Korea, Lee says, which made her want to tell this story even more.
From the opening sequence, we begin following Yoonju (Lee Sanghee), a talented art student who scrounges around junk yards for reusable items to transform into something new. It is there that Yoonju catches sight of Jisoo (Ryu Sunyoung), a self-assured and cheeky girl, and is startled to find that she is drawn to her. Yoonju’s growing affection for a girl is a sweet surprise, and we catch her smiling to herself often. For once, she is excited at the thought of love.
Their first night together, Jisoo is experienced and undaunted by Yoonju’s hesitance. Yoonju finds herself completely overwhelmed with her love for Jisoo. She begins to lose focus, careless of all aspects in her life except for Jisoo. As their relationship grows, the girls face typical hardships together, yet they begin to drift, slowly at first, until the space between them is blown wide, and nothing can be solved by a simple kiss anymore.
The girls are pressed to (traditionally) marry and both toy with the idea of loving a boy instead. Lee explains, “This is what occurs in a society that constantly raises the question, ‘When are you going to get married?'”
“It is rare to live openly gay in Korea,” Lee says. “You get into a same-sex relationship and, the longer it is, the more you lie, which creates a whole different level of exhaustion in the relationship.” She says this sense of exhaustion is what she wanted to portray in Our Love Story.
Lee’s gorgeously stretched out takes and purposefully chosen cuts create a sense of observance for the audience, as though we are given a front row seat to romance as it blossoms, fades, then repeats. Lee deliberately directed long takes and less cuts, and she explains why, saying: “I wanted to give the sense of observing what goes on in a Korean society today. The reality of Korea may seem suffocating to those in Canada.”
Seven to eight years ago, Lee made a short film about lesbianism which she says was very difficult to cast. Yet she found casting for Our Love Story to be much less difficult, which tells of the significant strides Korea has made in the last decade. Korean female actresses are very limited in character options, and Lee says the two main girls were intrigued to explore their performances in something new and different.
Our Love Story will be released in small theatres in Korea next month, but we all know that Lee’s debut film is just the beginning.
Watch the trailer here.