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Windstruck

17 May 2010 Comments off

I can’t be objective about this film. My heart’s on my sleeve here more than I prefer, but it’s the only way to explain my reaction.

To discuss why the film is so effective, I spoil a great deal of the film’s story (but hardly all of it). If you’d prefer to go into the film completely unaware — and I actually recommend this — then simply know that while it is flawed, it is very, very good.

One last thing: if you have lost your soulmate, the person you loved most in the world, held that person in your arms as she died — or if something even worse than that happened… then you either need to stay completely the hell away from this movie, or to see it right the hell now. (Only you can tell whether you need distance or catharsis, I can’t help you there.) If something like that is the case, read not another word of this review, just do what your conscience dictates.


Windstruck opens with a series of helicopter shots of a cityscape at night, while a Korean woman sings “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in accented English. The emotional tone in her voice is authentic, and it’s a respectable cover of the song. Things focus in on one skyscraper rooftop, where a beautiful girl (Ji-hyun Jun, aka Gianna Jun) stands at the edge, looking down. She edges forward, then tilts off, falling gracefully past the windows of the building, wind whipping her hair, her eyes closed, her expression one of relief, acceptance, and hope.

Yes, hope.

As she falls, a male voiceover begins. “Her name is Kyungjin. Kyungjin Yeo. She has something no one else can touch.” He starts to explain why she’s committing suicide, but then decides that, first, you have to know how he and she met.

And here’s the first jarring tonal shift in the movie, the sort for which Korean films are currently known. The opening sequence of elegiac beauty and release cuts to a cartoonish romantic comedy meet-cute.

A man runs down the street of a shopping district, pursued by another man, whom we’ll come to know as Myungwoo, and a middle aged woman rather behind them crying out for someone to stop the thief. Kyungjin walks out of a store, takes in the situation, and begins running after the man she sees. Which happens to be Myungwoo, and not the thief. She tackles him, rubs shampoo in his eyes to incapacitate him, cuffs him very creatively with some fabric and a hairbrush, and brutally drags him into the police station, where the desk sergeant tells her it’s her day off. She doesn’t let up on the interrogation until it’s all too clear that another guy did it. (And long after everyone else in the station, including the victim, has decided that Myungwoo could not possibly be the culprit.)

The next day (seemingly), Myungwoo shows up to the same police station because, as a high school teacher, he has volunteered for a program in which officers and civilians team up to keep students clear of the red light district.

He is partnered, naturally enough, with Kyungjin.

And she, given her go-getter attitude, quickly gets the two of them involved in something a very great deal more dangerous than keeping kids away from vice. Before the sequence is over (it’s layered and rather complicated), they’re both caught in the middle of a John Woo-style shootout between two drug-dealing gangs — Kyungjin handcuffed herself to Myungwoo to keep him from abandoning their “mission”. The sequence, as with most of the police-related scenes throughout the film, does not shirk on violence, even while playing aspects of it for laughs.

This is important. While the movie takes place in a romantic comedy milieu (at first), violence is real and has consequences in the world of the film; not only in the pivotal moment of the story, but throughout.

At the end of the night, it turns out that Kyungjin has misplaced her handcuff keys, and nobody at the station has any spares — the two have to spend the night sleeping, handcuffed, together.

Then comes my favorite scene. Myungwoo is giving a physics lecture to his class of teenaged girls (it’s an all-girl school). As he speaks, we see Kyungjin walk up the hall toward the classroom door, dressed smartly in her formal police uniform. She walks into the class, and Kyungjin drops the book he was reading from, the look on his face showing him trying to figure out what this demon has in store for him now. Kyungjin apologizes for interrupting the class, and asks if any of the students has forgotten her lunch that day. The girls go quiet, unsure quite what is happening. She smiles mischieviously at them and declares that, since nobody has forgotten her lunch, the one she is carrying must belong to the teacher. At which point the girls all go “Ooooooh!” and pounding their desks in approval. She hands him his lunch, lectures the girls for a moment “as a police officer”, and then declares that their teacher is a nice man, so they better not make trouble for him. Then she informs them (and him) that he is her boyfriend, so none of the girls had better make eyes at him. The girls voice giggling approval, as only teenaged girls can. As Myungwoo all but pushes her out of the classroom, Kyungjin says “We even slept together!”, and the students go nuts, standing, cheering, and pounding their desks more. Kyungjin ejected, Myungwoo walks back to his desk, his manner expressing pride and embarrassment and barely-contained joy simultaneously. It’s a lovely scene, played perfectly by the actors, and feels real, not like an obligatory movie scene.

As their relationship progresses, many romantic comedy clichés are mocked even as they are used to further the relationship. The clearest example is a montage of them dancing in the rain, in which the camera shows the audience very clearly that the rain is artificial, and the dancing and getting soaked are overwrought, turned up way past eleven. It manages both to mock such montages and to show the joy that Kyungjin and Myungwoo take in each other. Also, there’s a brief tag showing the real-world consequence of the Hollywood conceit.


Ji-hyun Jun is not only one of the most beautiful women in the world, I would argue that she is one of the best actresses as well, and the second half of the movie belongs to her. She has the ability to reduce grown men to tears — if you don’t believe me, watch My Sassy Girl with a grown man, and during the scene on the hilltop where she apologizes, watch your man, not the movie. He will lose it, or come very, very close. (If he doesn’t: robot.)

The same goes for this movie, although it is less subtle and more overtly manipulative. However, the manipulations work, and are true to the situation.

The biggest spoiler, as if you had not already figured it out, is that Myungwoo dies halfway through the story. (I won’t spoil how. But I will say that it makes rewatching some of the earlier scenes very, very difficult, because it was deftly foreshadowed with brutal irony.) And I needed to spoil that in order to tell you why this film is so goddamned effective, at least on me. The story works best when you don’t know what’s coming, but to explain why the story works, I have to go into how it is structured.

This movie is about survivor guilt (as are most of my favorite movies, and most of the scripts I write). In order to present that feeling effectively, it first gives you the relationship that one of the characters survives, spending half the movie making you love the couple as much as they loved one another. You must feel that love to feel the loss and desolation that follow. The second half of the movie is Kyungjin’s grieving process (and the beginnings of her recovery), which also needs a significant amount of screentime, both to present it believably, and to allow the audience to go through the emotional roller coaster.

I don’t think I’ve seen another movie handle survivor guilt in quite this way. Most others either put the loss at the very beginning of the story (often prior to it), or as the climax of the story, with a denouement that sketches the consequences.

The violent tonal shifts are also vital to Windstruck‘s story. It needs to be a romantic comedy to get you to fall in love with the couple, and to set you up to feel the loss that fuels the (melo)drama of the second half. The process of grief is complex and sometimes feels completely irrational, in which you can be belly-laughing one minute, and sobbing the next, and the story’s structure here reflects that and tries to carry the viewer through similar jarring shifts. Admittedly, it can get a bit ham-handed. But then, life is not always subtle either.

The part of this movie that will give Objectivists the most trouble is that it seems to get mystical in the second half. It is, in fact, open to interpretation, outside of one incredible coincidence tied to the opening scene. This aspect of the film is vital as well to the story it is telling.

Because Myungwoo comes back, or so it seems. (The fact that he is telling the story from beyond the grave argues that the mysticism is genuine, but it’s also an old filmic device.)

In an earlier scene, he declares that if he ever dies, he wants to return as the wind, and that he will always be with Kyungjin, all she has to do is feel the wind with her, and that will be him. It is a set-up which allows the second half of the film to fully explore Kyungjin’s grief and inability to let go of the love of her life.

Because the wind is with her, as well as a few other symbolic representations of her loss. It seems to guide her at times (and saves her life after she has jumped off the skyscraper, in a way I won’t go into — it is the one incident that cannot be explained away as her seeing what she wants to see, since it clearly happens for real).

You can take this mysticism as real within the story, or you can choose to see it as a function of Kyungjin’s grief. Either way, it belongs here for some very good reasons. First, as stated above, it helps to bring out the inner drama that Kyungjin is going through. Second, it is a dramatic way of showing the feeling of grief — after a loss like that, for a very long time afterward, the other person is still there with you, in your thoughts. You forget that they are gone, wish that they were there, think of things you want to say to them or share with them.

Which leads into the third reason the mysticism needs to be here: because, as the survivor, you desperately want it to be this way, no matter how much you know it can’t be. You want to feel the presence of the one you lost, in moments big and small. You want to be able to think that you will see them again — and soon, if you’re reckless enough. You want to feel that they are watching over you, and that they forgive you for surviving. You would give anything at all to have any of this be true.

If Windstruck left out the mystical aspects of the story, it would be dishonest about the emotions it is dealing with.


I said that the film was flawed and, by most standards, it is. There are entire story threads that either lead nowhere, or exist for a single purpose.

There is an undercover cop who has little to do with the story except that he knows the truth about an important scene, and it preys on his mind. At one point late in the movie, he seems about to tell Kyungjin what he knows, but then he never does. It’s rather pointless.

Then there is the single-purpose thread of Kyungjin’s dead twin sister. We and Myungwoo learn that she had one, that they often took each other’s place for fun, and that the sister died in Kyungjin’s place. One detail from this story sets up one of the most affecting and romantic and heartbreaking moments in the film, but outside of that, it has little effect on the story. It’s just there. (One could argue that it has some effect on Kyungjin in how she reacts to certain situations, but in my judgement she would have reacted much the same without the dead sister thread in the story. Except, of course, for the actual payoff which, admittedly, is a brilliant piece of writing.)


Windstruck isn’t as good a movie as My Sassy Girl (the director and star’s previous collaboration), but it is moving and powerful, at least to someone like me. Difficult as it is to watch, it is worth watching. More than once.