Edited by Ye Eun Cho
Translated by Yu Jin Kim
Most people have probably experienced growing apart from a close friend at some point in their lives. Chums often naturally drift apart over time, without any major conflicts, due to pent-up emotions towards each other or changes in values and lifestyles. However, even though it may be difficult to repair a broken relationship, you sometimes find yourself thinking about the friendship you once shared. This type of friendship is portrayed in the movie Soulmate, which follows the story of two best friends, Mi So (played by Kim Da Mi) and Ha Eun (Jeon So Nee), who knew from the moment they met that they would be inseparable.
Mi So and Ha Eun are best friends who mean the world to each other. Despite spending less time together after going to different high schools, their bond remains unbreakable. However, their friendship starts to waver when a boy named Jin Woo (Byun Woo Seok) enters their lives. Ha Eun falls head over heels for him and brings him into their circle of friends. But as time goes by, Ha Eun realizes that something is happening between Mi So and Jin Woo. As they grow into adults, Mi So and Ha Eun go down their own paths while carrying the weight of their broken friendship in their hearts. Eventually, the two unintentionally hurt each other’s feelings due to the harsh realities of life and the exhaustion that comes with it.
The first half of the movie takes place on Jeju Island and portrays a typical coming-of-age story. It features the breathtaking blue emerald sea, a leafy cave in the forest, a cozy-looking house, and an adorable cat, all capturing the island’s natural beauty and serene atmosphere like a painting on a postcard. The stunning scenery of Jeju draws the viewer’s attention, while the pure friendship between the two protagonists leaves us wondering what will happen next.
Nostalgic details that remind us of the 90s undoubtedly add to the fun of watching the movie. For instance, the DDR Pump game featuring the great chemistry between Mi So and Ha Eun, the group blind date where Jin Woo first encounters Ha Eun, and the Can More café where Ha Eun confesses her love for Jin Woo all evoke memories of the past. Moreover, the film offers a glimpse into pop culture back in the 90s. It is also worth noting the adorable cat Maru in the film, which symbolizes the friendship between Mi So and Ha Eun as they rescued the cat on a rainy day.
However, the general tone of the movie shifts after it reaches its mid-point, with several conflicts arising. In contrast to the lively atmosphere of Jeju in the first half of the film, the story unfolds in the desolate city of Seoul, alternating between the different lives of Ha Eun, who starts college, and Mi So, who decides to go it alone. As a result, the screen is filled with emptiness, longing, and bitterness instead of the shining moments of youth. The overall color palette on the screen becomes subdued, but the protagonists display even more diverse emotions, keeping the viewers engrossed in the story.
The line “We were great once. When did things change?” not only reflects the relationship between Mi So and Ha Eun but also highlights the downsides of the film’s setting. While multiple events occur in the latter half of the movie, some of them seem excessive. Although these incidents may have been intended to indirectly portray the protagonists’ emotional changes, they instead make the characters’ behaviors a bit difficult to comprehend. The continuous twists and turns are also unsatisfactory as similar techniques are used whenever they appear, making the story dull. It might have been better to either omit the latter 30 minutes of the movie or present the story in a different way. While such plot twists play an essential role in the original movie, that doesn’t mean they have to be applied in the remake version. Unless the main storyline follows the original, the ending doesn’t have to be similar.
Soulmate manages to tell the story of the three friends effectively in the first half of the film, but as the conflicts intensify, the plot loses its direction. Surprisingly, the identical plot twists and ending from the original movie make the Korean version less captivating. It appears that the struggle of not knowing how to resolve a complex situation is not just limited to Ha Eun and Mi So’s characters.
Despite some unsatisfactory aspects, the film undoubtedly has its own unique charms. The refreshing scenery of Jeju, the wide range of emotions displayed by the protagonists, and the actors’ delicate performances are all what make the film appealing. In the original Chinese version of the story, a novel served as a bridge connecting Ha Eun and Mi So, while in the Korean version, a painting takes on that role, as shown in the line, “Now I want to draw your face. A painting that is impossible to draw without love.” Their intense love for each other may have made fear and hatred loom larger over them. Perhaps the film is trying to convey to viewers not to make the same mistakes as the characters.