Humming immediately distinguishes itself from the typical Korean romantic melodrama as a love story that begins in the middle of a relationship. It teaches one of life's most often-heard lessons - that you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it - but does it with a big dose of melodrama and sentimentality. Lead character Joon-Seo (Lee Cheon-Hee) is barely onscreen for five minutes before he's already talking about breaking up with longtime girlfriend Mi-Yeon (the lovely Han Ji-Hye). He has grown increasingly distant after five and a half years together, and every contrived romantic surprise Mi-Yeon comes up with now simply annoys him to no end.
This is a point that certainly occurs in every long-term relationship, but director Park Dae-Young and writer Jeong Seon-Joo begin the film at this stage, giving the audience little reason to root for the couple. Audiences will likely only root for the adorable Mi-Yeon to break up with the selfish Joon-Seo, who is too unlikable of a jerk to be a qualified romantic lead. However, before this can happen, Mi-Yeon gets into a car accident, and ends up in a brain-dead state. Suddenly, Joon-Seo begins his road to redemption, as he discovers various things that cause him to reminisce about their time together.
The above is actually one of the more affecting storylines of the film, even though Joon-Seo's random emotional breakdowns happen too abruptly to be convincing - especially when he joins a research program to the South Pole just to get away from Mi-Yeon. But at least that works better than the suggested supernatural mystery that runs concurrently to Joon-Seo's redemption. The mystery begins when Mi-Yeon shows up at his apartment the morning after the accident, leading him to investigate whether this girl is the real Mi-Yeon or something else entirely. However, that storyline only serves to give the two actors more scenes together. By the end of the film, nothing about the mystery is solved, and the subplot could easily have been excised without having a major effect on the story or its themes.
Instead, the filmmakers should've provided more insights into the couple's relationship. The flashbacks to the couple's better times are schmaltzy romantic moments that infuse almost dangerous amounts of saccharine into the proceedings, but at least they give the audience a reason to care about the couple. They're essential elements that give the film its emotions, and the filmmakers choose to simply draw from the book of Korean dramas for extravagant romantic gestures, which makes the audience wonder even more why Seon Joo eventually becomes such a jerk later on.
But perhaps I'm not the target audience for this film. Young women will certainly swoon over Joon-Seo taping himself saying "I love you" repeatedly for Mi Yeon, and they will certainly shed a few tears whenever he goes into a crying fit. However, the relationship never feels fully credible for this cynic. Other than the superficial "love at first sight" on Joon-Seo's part, the film never explains why Mi-Yeon fell in love with him and why she is so blind to his change of heart at the beginning of the film.
Fortunately, Han Ji-Hye is so charming as Mi-Yeon that she almost immediately elicits sympathy. Even if the relationship feels manufactured, her performance convinces us that her feelings for Joon-Seo are not. Even Lee Cheon-Hee has the potential to be a charming romantic lead, but the script barely gives him any opportunity to do so, reducing him to a crying confused mess for half the film. The script lacks authenticity, but the two make a convincing "good-looking people" couple.
That is, until the very end of the film, when the credits suddenly cut to what is essentially an advertisement. The actors have a short voiceover as their characters, telling the audience to go to a certain website in order to find the theme song sung by the two actors. Suddenly, the film's commercial prospects are pushed in the audience's faces, taking them immediately out of the film and away from the characters. The moment could easily have been presented in the trailer or in the advertisements, and placing it in the film simply reveals its true nature as a commercial product intended to profit from manufactured emotions.
Then again, the moment may just be an insert by producers trying to make their money back through product placement and other such means of promotion. With little ambition beyond making an affecting romance, the filmmakers do manage some success. However, they also do little to provide any insight into the troubles of long-term relationships, opting for an emphasis on tear-inducing moments. A more cynical viewer might be inclined to wonder about the story's wasted potential, but the film's approach surely works for those who like their melodramas on emotional overdrive. The latter viewers will likely appreciate Humming's sweeter moments, cry over the bittersweet ending, and even find themselves humming the advertised song. That probably means that the filmmakers did something right after all.
(Kevin Ma, 2008)