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A Boy Who Went to Heaven

Park Hae-Il and Yeom Jeong-Ah in A Boy Who Went to Heaven.
Year: 2005  
Director: Yoon Tae-Young  
Producer: Cha Seung-Jae  
  Cast: Yeom Jeong-Ah, Park Hae-Il, Oh Kwang-Rok, Park Eun-Soo, Hong Soo-Yeon, Kim Kwan-Woo, Park Mi-Seon, Kim Jin-Hyeok, Jo Min-Soo
  The Skinny: A thirteen-year-old boy dies in a fire, only to be return to earth as a thirty-three year old man in this cute, fairly entertaining, but wholly inconsequential fantasy melodrama from director Yoon Tae-Young. Although generally amusing, sloppy plot contrivances and huge leaps in logic make one wonder if a much better film was left on the cutting room floor.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      In the spirit of other body transference flicks like 1988's Big and 2004's 13 Going on 30, director Yoon Tae-Young's A Boy Who Went to Heaven explores much of the same territory, although in this case, the setting is 1980s Korea. After a fantastical prologue that's infinitely more prophetic than viewers will first realize, the film begins in 1982, focusing on Nae-Mo (Kim Kwan-Woo), a thirteen year old boy who lives with his single mother, the owner of the town's watch repair shop. Realizing the hardship of his own life, Nae-Mo resolves to marry a single mother when he gets older, much to the consternation of his mother. In truth, Nae-Mo has never met his biological father; a simple black and white photograph is the only evidence of his existence. First, Nae-Mo's mother tells him that his father is in jail, but later, after a supposed prison visit to her husband, she instructs Nae-Mo to consider the man dead. She is clearly distraught by their last encounter, and, quite unexpectedly, she commits suicide not long afterwards.
     After her death, Nae-Mo is allowed to live alone in his mother's house unsupervised. Why he isn't shipped off to an orphanage or forced to live with relatives is unclear, but whatever the case, Nae-Mo's solitary existence gets a lift when a comic book rental shop opens up in place of his mother's old business. The shop's owner is Boo-Ja (Yeom Jeong-Ah), a beautiful single mother to Gi-Chul, a little boy several years younger than Nae-Mo. Seeing an opportunity to make his dream come true, Nae-Mo resolves to "take care" of them, protecting Gi-Chul from bullies and sending anonymous love letters to Boo-Ja. But just as her secret admirer is set to reveal himself and propose marriage (promising to wait until he's old enough), fate intervenes as a blazing fire breaks out in the local movie theatre. In the ensuing chaos, Gi-Chul gets separated from his mother, and it's up to Nae-Mo to save the little boy - an act of bravery that ultimately proves fatal.
     However, Nae-Mo does get a reprieve of sorts. Two angels (one assumes, anyway) show up to collect Nae-Mo's soul, but realize there may have been a mistake. One chart says he's destined to die at thirteen, while the other says his expiration date is set for the ripe old age of ninety-three. Although one would expect this sort of problem would have been worked out beforehand, the plot calls for the angels to hatch a solution: they'll resurrect Nae-Mo, but age him to be a thirty-three year old, complete with his thirteen year old mind entact. Subsequently, he will age one year for each day that passes until he's ninety-three. Tragically, that means that Nae-Mo only has sixty days to live. While all this amounts to some fairly interesting rules for the plot to follow, it's important to realize that they also make absolutely no sense whatsoever. What makes even less sense is the fact that Nae-Mo doesn't physically age each day as they said he would; he only really begins making a dramatic transformation to retirement age in the last few days of his life. Illogical plot contrivances aside, Nae-Mo comes back to earth, this time played by Park Hae-Il. In order to keep up the charade, he pretends to be his own father and pursues a relationship with Boo-Ja. After some comical miscues, a real romance develops, but with no happy ending in sight...or is there?
     If one doesn't think too hard about A Boy Who Went to Heaven, it makes for an entertaining diversion. Both Park Hae-Il and Kim Kwan-Woo turn in likeable performances as the older and younger Nae-Mo respectively. The developing relationship between the mature, sexually aggressive Boo-Ja, and the naive "older" Nae-Mo makes for some entertaining byplay, but it's a bit strange how the man/boy's indoctrination into the world of sexual maturity is glossed over both by the film's "innocent tone" and its hyper-stylized fantasy elements. It's a beautifully shot film, with plenty of CGI enhancements added here and there, but ultimately, it's that same glossiness - particularly in the filmmaker's lack of concern for detail or consistency in plot - that proves to be rather off-putting upon close inspection.
     For instance, one of the better parts of the film involves the newly resurrected Nae-Mo catching up with his angelic father, who is invisible to others. The idea of a boy finally getting to meet and talk with his father is an intriguing one, and it gets explored oh-so briefly, as it is dropped from the narrative almost as soon as it is introduced, only reappearing once more in order to throw Nae-Mo's mental state in doubt by the outside public. For every additional plot quibble I could add, it's easy to see how one could argue that "It's all fantasy," and thus shouldn't be made to fit into any sort of logic. But really, that's no excuse; creating arbitrary rules or simply not following the rules and logic one sets up in the movie is just plain sloppy filmmaking. If a film is going to operate under certain fantastical parameters, then it needs to establish an internal logic that not only makes sense, but is consistently adhered to throughout. But when a film set in the early eighties references Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, clearly something is wrong. Considering the sixteen deleted scenes on the DVD, one has to wonder if perhaps a better film, or at least one more fully fleshed out found itself lying on the cutting room floor.
     That's not to say that A Boy Who Went to Heaven is a bad movie per se. In fact, if you're interested in the concept of a kid trapped in an older person's body or just have a particular affinity for Park Hae-Il and/or Yeom Jeong-Ah, you could do a whole lot worse than to check this film out. When it comes to innocuous fluff, A Boy Who Went to Heaven is one of the more positive examples. It's cute, fun, and a little bit naughty. Still, be sure to check your brain at the door. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
KD Media
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras including Audio Commentary, Deleted scenes, "Making of" Featurettes, Music Video, Trailer, and more
   Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen