The film records the final days of longtime companions as a wife prepares for her husband’s imminent departure
POV continues its 30th season with the broadcast premiere of My Love, Don’t Cross That River, South Korean director Jin Mo-young’s portrait of a devoted partnership that stretches to the very end of life.
Husband and wife Jo Byeong-man and Kang Gye-yeol have managed to preserve their vitality, humor and affection for one another well into their seventh decade of marriage. They reside in a quiet and pastoral region of South Korea and follow many traditional features of Korean culture, from cooking their meals over a simple stone stove to wearing the hanbok robes of past generations.
Despite their age, Jo and Kang take responsibility for the physical labor their rural home demands, such as collecting firewood, fetching water and shoveling snow. These chores are often slowed down by Jo’s joking and mischief, but Kang hardly seems to mind.
Jo’s generosity is revealed by his wife’s sly observation of his eating habits: “He’s never once told me he didn’t like something I cooked. But if he doesn’t like it, he’ll eat less of it. And if he likes it, he’ll eat a whole lot. And then he thanks me for making it.”
Their relationship began as an arranged marriage. Kang describes their early years: “We met when I was just 14. I knew nothing of the world then. I was told my husband would be 19 years old… I addressed him as ‘Mister’ for a while.” Explaining how the chastity of their early years together evolved into full-fledged devotion and attachment, she adds, “He waited for me to get older to hold me. Now he can’t sleep unless we’re touching.”
“When I started shooting, I just wanted to find out the secret of their love,” says director Jin Mo-young. “But, as time went on, I could see many more facets to their lives, and, I guess because of this, audiences enjoyed the film from their own varied viewpoints—married or not married, male or female, young or old, as a son or daughter, mother or father and so on. To all of them, this couple proved that eternal love still exists in this world.”
Of course, just as in every relationship, nothing is perfect. Jo and Kang butt heads at times. And when their children—now adults with their own families—come to visit, they get into a heated argument over who has been more devoted to taking care of their parents. Jo and Kang sit by silently, their faces clearly distressed.
But despite these challenges, this is a film about the couple’s last happy days together. From the earliest scene, it is clear that Jo’s advanced age and intensifying illness are taking a growing toll on his ability to perform his daily routines. Eventually, he becomes largely bedridden and the family begins tearfully making end-of-life preparations.
One such tradition is that living relatives must burn ample clothing for the deceased to use in the afterlife. In an initially puzzling but ultimately poignant scene, Kang travels to town for six sets of children’s pajamas. She explains that each set is for a child she and her husband lost to war or disease over the years. She intends to include her purchase in the ritual burning so that her husband can make a delivery to the deceased children when he meets them again. Alluding to the family’s difficult past, Kang says, “I’ve been meaning to buy them long johns for some time now. It’s been on my mind for some time… I feel bad I couldn’t get them these before. I couldn’t afford these back then.”
A brief improvement in Jo’s illness near the end allows for a mundane yet beautiful moment—he is able to sit up in bed while he and Kang play with their dog’s newborn puppies.
Shortly afterward, Jo is taken to the hospital and the family begins to say final goodbyes. At the side of her husband’s deathbed, Kang expresses the kind of sorrow and dismay naturally felt in the face of losing a companion after so many years: “Wouldn’t it be so nice if we could go together like that?… Cross that bridge beyond, go over the hill together. And everyone can come to bid us farewell… Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Many things about this film are exceptional to viewers: Jo and Kang’s seemingly endless love, the quiet of the Korean countryside, the bright and beautiful matching clothes,” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director of POV/American Documentary. “But Jo and Kang’s story is also a universal one. For an hour, they become everyone’s grandparents, whose enduring affection for each other is something to which we all aspire. The film is a testament to a life, full of love, that is well lived.”
My Love, Don’t Cross That River will stream online on pov.org in concurrence with its broadcast.
About the Filmmakers:
Jin Mo-young, Director
Jin Mo-young has been making different styles of documentaries for Korean broadcasters since 1997. As a producer, director and writer, he has contributed to numerous films, including 50 Days with Narcotics Investigation Officers, Pioneer Resource Field, The Life of Papers, Urban Pigeons’ Dream of Coexistence, Mud Flat of Winter, Asian Primitive Tribe Expedition Trilogy, Eriyan Jaya Trilogy and Romantic Korea. In 2012, he produced the feature film Shiva, Throw Your Life, directed by Lee Seongkyu. My Love, Don’t Cross That River is his first feature-length documentary as director.
Director: Jin Mo-young; Producer: Kyung-soo Han; Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan, Chris White
My Love Don’t Cross That River is an Argus Film production in co-production with DR – Danish Broadcasting Corporation and American Documentary | POV.