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Williams Lake Film Club presents Past Lives

Debut feature film for Korean-Canadian director Celine Song
Actor Greta Lee, right, stars alongside Teo Yoo, left, in Past Lives, showing in Williams Lake at Paradise Cinemas on Sept. 21. (Elevation Pictures photo)

The Williams Lake Film Club is delighted to begin our fall season with Past Lives, happening Thursday Sept. 21 at the Paradise Cinemas.

The remarkable feature film is the debut for Korean-Canadian director Celine Song.

While this movie centres on a tale of childhood sweethearts reunited in New York, it defies any kind of conventional genre label.

The film has been met with universal critical and audience acclaim after premiering earlier this year at Sundance, and many top critics have hailed it as one of the best films of 2023.

Stylistically, the film takes part in three distinct times or acts, each occurring over 12-year increments. In Korea, 12-year-old Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) are best friends - they walk home from school together, and vie for the best marks in class.

Their relationship is disrupted when Nora leaves with her family to immigrate to Canada, and the pair lose contact. Jump ahead 12 years, and Nora is in Toronto pursuing a career as a playwright, while Hae-Sung remains in Korea.

He’s finished his mandatory military service, and is getting a degree in engineering. As it turns out, they both have been tentatively looking for each other through social media, and they once again begin talking over the internet.

Despite their undeniable connection, when it becomes clear that geography is an insurmountable obstacle, Nora once again cuts ties with Hae Sung, this time to focus more exclusively on her writing career.

Then fast forward a further 12 years ahead. Nora is now living in New York and married to Arthur (John Magaro, who also plays a strong role), a novelist she meets at a work convention shortly after closing the door to her online relationship reconnection with Hae Sung.

In Korea, Hae Sung has just broken up with a long-term girlfriend. At a crossroads, he decides to make the trip to New York on the premise of a vacation, and he once again connects with Nora, who is excited to be his tour guide around the city.

Really, however, Hae Sung’s motivation is much more complex. He’s there to reconnect with Nora, and see who she has become.

The title refers not only to the childhood lives of Hae Sung and Nora, but a concept in Korea, of in-yun, about providence or fate, and the notion that when a person encounters another person, it means they have met in a past life. As Song describes it, “[i]t’s just a special feeling that you get when you meet someone and some of them may become your lifelong partners or your lifelong friends. How wild that this person who was once a stranger becomes your family? And that must mean there was a ton of in-yun that was involved” (Filmmaker 2023).

In fact, many elements of the film mirror writer/director Song’s own life, which is no doubt part of why the film feels so authentic and lived in. Like Nora, Song immigrated to Canada from Korea, and also made the move to New York in her 20s to pursue a career in playwriting. The initial spark for the film also originated from a real moment in Song’s life. As she recounts, “…I was sitting there [at a bar in New York] with my childhood sweetheart who flew in from Korea, now he is a friend, who only really speaks Korean, and my American husband who only really speaks English. And I was sitting there trying to translate these two guys trying to communicate, and I felt like something really special was going on. I was sort of becoming a bridge or a portal between these two men and also, in some ways, these two worlds of language and culture. Something about that moment really sparked something, and then it made me really feel like maybe this could be a movie. (Hollywood Reporter 2023).

In Past Lives, Song deftly explores how our identity is a shifting, spherical thing, and in constant motion. As she explains, “… it is really about the many selves that we are. And it’s about accepting that and reconciling that and letting go of the idea that you’re just one thing” (Hollywood Reporter 2023). For Song, “[t]he most important part of this movie was to reflect the way that our lives really feel, and the way that time feels…[s]o much of the movie is about the way that time has weighed on a person: how time changes a person and doesn’t change a person at all” (Toronto Star 2023). A movie about “extraordinary hellos and goodbye,” Past Lives is a film about chance, destiny, choice, and circumstance. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this captivating and unforgettable film on the big screen.

Past Lives will be screening on Thursday Sept. 21 at the Paradise Cinemas (78 Third Ave South). Rated PG. Tickets are $10.

Advance tickets on sale now at the Open Book, and remaining tickets will be sold in the cinema lobby prior to the screening. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m.

We encourage you to get your tickets in advance, and to arrive early to get a good seat (and the best popcorn in town).

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