There is no subtlety in this movie.

When it comes to tearjerkers, Koreans don't mess around. They are not satisfied with a movie or TV drama that makes you sniffle a bit. They demand full-on bawling. Maybe this is because Koreans have a long history of being occupied, colonized, and brutalized by foreign invaders. (Not to mention that they have been in a state of war with each other for the last 63 years.) Or maybe it's something in our DNA. Whatever it is, tragedy seems to be as much a part of the Korean psyche as freedom is to 'Merica's.

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So I was not surprised that My Love, Don't Cross That River—an immensely popular 2014 South Korean documentary about a sweet elderly couple facing their imminent demise—was going to require tissues, and lots of them. But the movie is such a blatant, manipulative attempt at generating maximum tears that at the end of the movie—the climax of human suffering—I burst out laughing instead. (Although I was also sort of crying, because I am not a heartless robot.)

From the beginning, filmmaker Jin Mo-young makes it clear that this will be a Painful Yet Beautiful Movie. He begins with a wide shot of—spoiler alert!—the wife, 89-year-old Kang Gye-yeol, softly wailing in front of the grave of her husband, 98-year-old Jo Byeong-man, in the dead of winter, set to very sad piano music. The rest of the movie is a flashback, so we get to see moments of their blissful happiness while knowing that the dark cloud of death is looming just 90 minutes away. The couple spends their days cooking rice, gathering firewood, picking flowers, and feeding their dogs. They use the bathroom. They bathe. They take afternoon naps. They hold hands, dance, sing, and tease each other. They are reduced to caricatures of cute old people.

We don't get a whole lot more than that. Jin doesn't seem interested in getting a complex, nuanced view of these individuals. We learn only a minimal amount about their backgrounds: They got married when she was 14. He worked for her family. They had 12 children, but only six lived into adulthood.

And then the dread starts creeping in. As the husband's health declines, his dignity gets stripped in the process. We see him urinating into a chamber pot at night, getting his butt washed by his wife, and struggling to hang a mirror on the wall. At the wife's birthday party, their eldest daughter yells at their eldest son—scandalous, in Korean patriarchal hierarchy—for failing to take care of them. When the siblings resort to hitting each other, the parents break down and cry.

This doesn't feel like intimacy but invasion. And the sole purpose seems to be to wring out every last drop of their suffering. "Time passes. People get old. There's nothing you can do about it," the husband says while he is still upright.

In case you didn't get the idea that this movie is about life and death, the filmmaker has helpfully incorporated the seasons as symbolism. So they happily pick flowers in the spring and then lie sick in bed when it's raining. The river that runs past their house swells and subsides throughout the year. After a shot of them strolling through a field, we see two frogs chase each other in the water. (There is no subtlety in this movie.)

Speaking of lack of subtlety, there is something very artificial about this "documentary." While the couple is obviously real, and their affection genuine, there are elements that are highly suspect. For starters, they wear brand-new, shiny matching "traditional" clothes—the kind that most people reserve for special occasions. The fact that they wear such fancy outfits while doing mundane tasks like shoveling snow makes it all the more ludicrous. They also have big sparkly jewels on their fingers but live in a countryside shack where they have to forage for firewood.

Additionally, several shots seem too well framed to be spontaneous, and there's at least one instance in which the camera seems to know exactly where to go to capture the best shot of the action before the action happens. All the scenes of them throwing leaves/snow/water at each other feel, if not staged, then at least played up for the camera.

This manipulation cheapens their lives. It also shortchanges the audience. The saddest part is not when the movie comes full circle and we watch the poor widow wailing in the snow for her beloved husband for a ridiculous amount of time, but when you realize that the filmmaker believes that bludgeoning the audience to death with sorrow makes for a great film.

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