Past Lives
A bittersweet multi-decade spanning romantic drama tacking themes of fate and destiny, in this life or the next.

Past Lives

Release Date: June 9, 2023
Runtime: 01:45
Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. 20 years later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of love and destiny.

Two Korean childhood sweethearts are reunited after more than two decades apart in . As children, Na Young () and Hae Sung () are inseparable, before Na Young's family decides to immigrate from South Korea to Toronto. 12 years passed and the now re-named Nora (Seung Min Yim) is working as an aspiring playwright in New York when she reconnects with an adult Hae Sung () over Skype. It would be another 12 years before Hae Sung finally travels to New York to visit Nora, at which time she is already married to fellow writer Arthur ().

Past Lives Synopsis

Past Lives is a multi-decade-spanning romantic drama and the feature film debut of writer/director Celine Song. The film follows two childhood sweethearts, who are kept apart from each other for a 24-year period. During that period, Nora has moved on from her life in Korea and has fully emersed herself in living in the United States, only speaking Korean to her family and Hae Sung when they finally reconnect.

The flame between the two is nearly reignited when Nora and Hae Sung start having regular Skype calls with each other. However, Nora stops the communication when it becomes apparent that it is not currently feasible for the two to reunite in person. Soon afterwards, Nora meets Arthur at a writer's retreat and it isn't long before they get married. When Hae-Sun and Nora finally reunite 12 years later, it is perhaps too late for anything romantic to happen between them.

My Thoughts on Past Lives

The plot and title of Past Lives make heavy reference to the Korean concept of In-Yun, where every interaction you have has a connection with one of your past lives. Indeed, the In-Yun between Hae Sung and Nora is very strong, meaning they were either a couple in a past life or will be in a future one. However, for some reason, fate conspired to keep them apart from each other for over two decades.

Past Lives begins with a voiceover from a couple of bar patrons observing Hae Sung speaking with Nora and Arthur and wondering what the connection between the three is. The scene is returned to in the final act when Hae Sung and Nora finally have a major heart-to-heart with each other. It is here where they contemplate what their lives would've been like if things went differently.

Probably the most interesting character in Past Lives is that of Nora's husband Arthur, who is not properly introduced until halfway through the film. On the outside, Arthur states that he completely understands if Nora decides to leave him for Hae Sung since in any other story he would be an “evil white husband” that stands in their way. However, the facial expressions that Arthur makes illustrate that he possibly is bothered by the reunion since he believes that Nora only married him out of convenience to get a Green Card.

It is not revealing too much to say that Past Lives is not a film building up to some fairytale ending. The film tackles themes of fate and destiny and how they connect with the Korean concept of In-Yun. While Hae Sung and Nora may be destined for each other, it may not be in this lifetime.

Trailer for Past Lives

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.