|The school field trip was always one of the most exciting parts of my primary school life. While going off to a far off place with my classmates and little supervision was a chance to test my independence, the primary thrill came from the valuable opportunity to see places I would never see on my own. Korean writer-director Song Dong-Yoon obviously remembers this experience well enough to make a film about it. His debut film Unforgettable is about - for lack of a better word - the unforgettable trip a group of country kids from Shindo Island take to Seoul, led by their kind-hearted teacher.
One of those kids is Gil-Soo, who is now a teacher of his own elementary school class as an adult. In trying to recreate the same unforgettable experience for the kids, he proposes to take the big city kids to Shindo for a field trip. However, the idea is shot down by the parents, who have better things for the kids to do than going off to an island. Flashbacks reveal that the same situation happened to Gil-Soo's teacher Eun-Young (Oh Soo-Ah). Even though she finally got an invitation to visit a cookie factory in Seoul with the kids, her biggest obstacle was overcoming the parents' objections. After all, they can't afford to send their kids to Seoul, and what good will it do a bunch of kids from a poor fish village anyway? But being the guardian angel Eun-Young is, her persistence finally softens the hearts of the parents, and the kids are off to the big city.
Clocking in at just 84 minutes, Unforgettable is a very simple film, and actually has little worth dramatizing. But Song charms the audience with his nostalgic portrayal of a 70s small town and its relatively no-frills life. With everything going on in the world now, getting a group of kids to Seoul for a few days seems like a minor problem, but it was almost the event of these kids' lifetimes. Song gets that importance across in the first two-thirds of the story by showing the kids' almost primitive naiveté (they're even amazed by a bicycle), playing up the simplicity of their lives as contrast.
The problem occurs when the kids are finally off to their big trip to Seoul. Perhaps due to the lack of budget, Song fails to capture the magic and the allure of the big city. Instead, he chooses to concentrate on Gil-Soo's attempt to find his estranged mother, which allows the various dangers of the big city and the plight of the other kids to take center stage. As a result, the only thing unforgettable about the trip is how miserable and potentially traumatic it is for everyone involved. Unforgettable ultimately turns into a melodrama that would have been better off without the melodrama.
Of course, Song was likely just adhering to the inherent need for some kind of drama in order to drive the film to a conclusion. However, the script doesn't bother to tell the full story. Instead, it simply stops when the trip's final problem is solved. Major questions, such as the effect of the trip on all the kids, are left unanswered. The problem is that the quick ending doesn't make the pacing any smoother, especially when the film is far from being overlong. Instead, it just feels like the result of either lazy directing or an underdeveloped script. Since Song is both the writer and the director, it may even be both.
Nonetheless, it's hard to ignore the charm of the small town life Unforgettable portrays. Song fills the film with beautiful shots of Shindo Island throughout, and the film would serve as a great tourism ad. The group of kids has a natural innocent charm that makes them instantly likable, which makes their disappearance at the end of the film even more frustrating. On the other hand, the simplicity of their lives is also accurately reflected in the film's style, and is easily the source of any feelings of nostalgia in the audience. This may actually be Song's sole intention for the film. After all, he could've easily taken things even deeper into melodrama territory with further acts of cruelty and overwrought emotions just to induce a few tears out of the audiences' eyes. For that, I can overlook the various flaws and just be thankful that Unforgettable didn't become what it could've been.
(Kevin Ma, 2008)