Celine Songs’ ‘Past Lives’ A Bittersweet Tale Of What Ifs With Teo Yoo & Greta Lee’s Heartwarming Performances


New Delhi: The Korean term “In Yeon” signifies a profound meaning, encompassing the concept of providence or fate, particularly in the domain of human relationships. It carries the belief that there are no coincidences in life; our paths are destined to cross with others, be it fleeting encounters with strangers or profound connections with potential soulmates.

Filmmaker Celine Song’s feature film “Past Lives” has been warmly received for its bittersweet and beautifully articulated story that delves into the lasting bonds of love and the subtle, often invisible threads that connect individuals. The film elegantly portrays the concept of ‘In Yeon’—the unseen forces that bring people together or guide them along divergent paths.

At the heart of the movie is the tale of two childhood friends, Na Young—now known as Nora (played by Greta Lee)—and her “cheot-sarang” or first love, Hae Sung (portrayed by Teo Yoo). After 24 years, they find themselves reunited in New York, far from the innocence of their youthful days in South Korea.

Their aspirations have evolved over time: Nora has nurtured dreams of becoming a writer, a dream that propels her move to Canada with her family. In a candid exchange with Hae Sung about relocation, she quips, “Koreans don’t win a Nobel Prize for literature,” highlighting her ambitions and the need for change. As they settle into their new lives, they take on Americanized names, with Na Young becoming Nora, an emerging writer. Over the years, their correspondence dwindles until a fortuitous online encounter reignites their communication.

Meanwhile, Nora, while on a writer’s retreat, meets Arthur. The connection is immediate, a manifestation of “In Yeon”—Arthur, too, is a writer, and their quick rapport leads to marriage, offering Nora not just companionship but a pathway to a green card. Despite the joy of new beginnings, the past is never too distant. Hae Sung’s upcoming visit to the States rekindles Nora’s anticipation to reconnect with her old friend. In New York, Hae Sung’s longing is palpable, a sentiment recognized by the astute Arthur, who perceives the undercurrents of “what if” scenarios troubling Hae Sung.

Celine Song presents a contemplative and subdued narrative that eschews the drama of love triangles, forbidden affairs, or overt sexual tension. Rather, it is an exploration of the myriad emotions tied to the “what ifs”—the possibilities life presents and the decisions that lead us down particular paths.

Neither is Arthur depicted as condescending or prejudiced. Instead, he embodies the observant spectator, mirroring the audience’s curiosity about the implications of this reunion.

In a poignant moment, Hae Sung muses to Nora, “What if this is a past life as well, and we are already something else to each other in our next life? Who do you think we are then?” It’s a wistful thought that lingers with the viewers as the movie concludes, inviting reflections on destiny and the intangible aspects of past and future lives.

Teo Yoo, known for his role in “Love to Hate You,” delivers a poignant performance as Hae Sung, his every action and expression imbued with subtle depth that befits his character. Greta Lee, as Nora, impressively commands her character, displaying authority over her life’s choices.

“Past Lives” resonates as a contemplative slice-of-life film, pulling at heartstrings and enveloping the audience in a sense of nostalgia and introspection, yet providing a sense of resolution that life’s journey demands. This narrative offers more than just a story; it imparts an experience—one that questions the intricacies of fate, love, and the many unforeseen ways we are bound to one another across lifetimes.

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