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Perhaps one of the most romantic documentaries ever made. Beautifully shot in a breathtaking mountain village in South Korea, the film follows a husband and wife known as the “100-year-old lovebirds.” Joyful, playful and so visibly in love, they have lived a fairy-tale romance through their 76 years of marriage.
But when the husband falls ill, the thought of his death becomes almost unbearable for the wife. With gorgeous cinematography, exquisite storytelling and a compassionate approach to his subjects, it is no wonder that the film broke box office records in its native South Korea.
A true love story that also presents an honest look at some of the most difficult aspects of aging. - VIDEO LIBRARIAN
Make sure you have an entire box of tissues ready for this wonderful, heartbreaking documentary.
-By ALEX RIVIELLO - NYAFF
If you thought you’d never see a more devastating documentary than Dear Zachary, you were wrong. That famous film is pretty much guaranteed to leave a mess out of anyone who watches it - it’s not so much a documentary as grief itself converted into film, a heartbreaking gut-punch of an experience - but My Love, Don’t Cross That River may be even more intense.
You know you’re in for it from the very first shot, which fades in on an absolutely stunning winter wonderland, the first of many shots that just amaze you with their beauty. There’s a little old lady sitting on the left side of the screen and you’re taken in by the almost fairytale look of the setting as snow gently falls... and then you’ll realize that the lady isn’t just sitting there, she’s weeping. More than that she’s bawling, the kind of sound that only comes from experiencing more pain than you could possibly imagine. And then you realize she’s sitting in front of a grave.
From there, we go back in time.
You’re introduced to Jo Byung-Man and Kang Kyae-Yual, who are perhaps the cutest old couple you’ve ever seen. Kang is 89 and Jo is pushing 100, but you’d never guess it from their demeanor. Jo laments not being as strong as he once was and finds himself winded collecting wood to heat their little country home, but he also doesn’t hesitate to fool around. The camera is constantly catching him throwing water at his wife, dumping leaves on her head, just messing around until they collapse in wheezing, bent-back laughter.
They wear traditional Korean garb and match their clothes together, walking slowly around the rural landscape, their bright pink and yellow outfits bringing life to the drab surroundings. They forage for food and cook for each other, and while they have numerous children and grandchildren living elsewhere, here they only have themselves.
Every night as Jo and Kang sleep together they hold hands, as they have for the 75 years they’ve been together.
And then Jo’s health takes a turn for the worse. He was always hard of hearing but now Kang has trouble getting him to answer her, and his wracking cough gets even more awful. It’s so painful it wakes him up at night, and the doctors tell them they don’t have any medicine that will help. Even as cheerful and amazing as Kang is, she starts to plan for the inevitable, burning his clothes so that he can have them when he goes wherever it is he’s going.
You know from the very first shot what’s to come but, of course, knowing our mortality doesn’t make it any easier to get through. This is a rough, rough film to sit through, and even now just thinking about it I can feel my eyes begin to ache, threatening to fill up. My Love, Don’t Cross That River will absolutely wreck you, and leave you feeling emotionally drained and almost bereaved yourself.
It’s hard not to think of the old people in your life as you watch it, especially if you knew some that have passed away. One of the hardest questions asked by Kang is that of who will love Jo when she dies? No one in the world knows Jo as well as Kang does, after all. What happens when not only he’s gone, but she is too?
This is about as universal an experience as you can capture, and that’s perhaps what makes this documentary so wonderful, even in its sadness. This is not a topic we usually touch, most of us going out of our way to avoid the discussion of the end of our lives. Old people are hidden from view and thought about as little as possible, and those who help them through the end of their lives generally don’t share that experience. I doubt we could ever get a documentary like this made in the West, either. People here seem to hold onto their private moments and would never open up and allow access to their raw emotions the way they seem to here. Of course, it’s likely less about Korean culture than it is just these two wonderful, loving people opening up.
I hate to keep comparing it to Dear Zachary but I can’t think of another movie that will wring the tears out of you as easily. The only difference here is that Dear Zachary is a better experience than it is a film. It’s one that everyone should watch but it’s incredibly manipulative. The same can’t be said about My Love, Don’t Cross That River, which is actually a great film on its own. There’s no overwrought musical cues or jarring cuts, no information hidden from the viewer to provide optimal shocks. They just lay out the story, punctuating some scenes with a thoughtful piano soundtrack, but mostly just letting the ambience (and people) speak for itself.
It’s also expertly composed, aided perhaps by the slowness of their subjects. It sounds mean but there’s no other way I can think of that they managed to get some of these shots, which are framed like no other documentary. It doesn’t hurt that these sweet old people are photogenic even through their (many, many) wrinkles.
Like Dear Zachary I will likely never watch My Love, Don’t Cross That River ever again, since I’m not sure I would ever put myself through the emotional wringer. I got everything I wanted to out of it and it will likely stay with me forever. That’s enough for me, and more than you can ask out of any film.
A warm and tender exploration of a 76-year marriage in South Korea.
- by Laure Bonville - BFI Film Festival
They are still very much in love, walk hand-in-hand in their bright matching outfits, splash about in the river and play mischievous jokes on each other. They’ve shared a lifetime of hardship and happiness, had children and now live off the land in their small house by the river. As Jo Byeon Man becomes increasingly more frail, Kang Kye Yeol prepares to say goodbye. In this warm and tender documentary, director Jin Mo Young captures small moments of intimacy in the daily life of a couple in their twilight years, creating an evocative and affecting reflection on lifelong love and companionship. The most commercially successful Korean independent film of all time when it was released domestically last year, My Love Don’t Cross That River won’t fail to inspire and move you.
Hot Docs Interview: Jin Mo Young
- by Cindy Zimmer
A warm and tender exploration of a 76-year marriage in South Korea.
What were you trying to portray in My Love, Don’t Cross That River? Specifically, how did you want the audience to react to it when they watched it?
The story I have told in the film is nothing big (unsophisticated). It is not about a famous people nor has spectacle. But I want to show the audience what love between a man and a woman is like. So I don’t want to make a big message also because you can never learn big things just by watching one film. What I wanted from my audience was for them to realize they should take care of their spouse, or people around them.
Were there any other takeaways you wanted the audience to see?
We should think about marriage (conjugal love) more seriously. Marriage may seem like just two people living together. However, when you look closely, if you calculate how much time you would spend with the partner in your whole life from birth to death, you and your spouse spend significant amount of time together. So it’s not just spending time together, but living a LIFE together.
A life with no love can be unfortunate and unmeaningful. That’s what I think. So, loving and living with someone else is as important to our life as human rights. That’s why we should think and contemplate more about love and marriage, and I hope this couple will help you with that.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a sweet, poignant, and ultimately sad (though romantic) documentary that tugs at the viewers emotions. What effect did filming it have on you?
Audience only watch things that are put on screen and filmmakers including myself go through the whole process of making them. The scenes that did not make to the screen thus still stays in my heart. Filming this story was very meaningful and thankful moment of my life. I think the year and 3 months that I spent with the couple was an opportunity for me to watch and think about the love in marriage. I am not the nicest person than anyone else, but after seeing them, I resolved to please people around myself. So filming this movie was a gift for myself.
What are you working on at the moment? Any new projects?
Last year, I started my new project while I was working on the post-production for My Love Don’t Cross That River. It’s called THE STRANGER, it’s about a North Korean defector who is trying to adapt to a new life in South Korea with his family. South Korean society is hard. It’s a harsh society to live for the strangers. By making this film, I wanted to draw a portrait of Korean Society and the world more broadly. Just like the old couple in my film, the man that I am filming right now too is a micro-portrait of the society that we live in. Hence, I am still working on my project on this diver who is a North Korean defector.
I’d like to thank director Jin Mo Young for taking the time before the first screening of his documentary at Hot Docs to answer our questions. And a huge thanks to Randy Hanbyul Lee for translating the interview, it was much appreciated!
As you’ll see in my review (published later today), My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a sweet, poignant film about a 76 year old marriage where the love is still strong (and at times, playful). It will make you smile and cry, and think about love. Check it out at Hot Docs, it has two more screenings!
Couple's Lifelong Love Story Breaks Box Office Records
- by FRANCES KAI-HWA WANG - NBC NEWS
Within two weeks of its November 27 release, South Korean documentary film, "My Love, Don't Cross That River," became South Korea's most successful independent film of 2014, outpacing even Hollywood blockbusters like "Interstellar" and "Exodus: Gods And Kings." Now, with over three million tickets sold, and grossing over $26 million, it is poised to become South Korea's most successful independent film ever.
Directed by veteran documentary filmmaker Jin Mo-Young, the film follows the love story of an elderly couple - 89-year-old Kang Kye-Yeol and 98-year-old Cho Byeong-Man, married for 76 years. The two are described as fairytale-like characters—the husband is strong like a woodsman and the wife is full of charms like a princess. Every day, the couple wears matching traditional Korean hanbok, enjoy a daily routine together, and fall asleep at night holding hands. The movie documents their days as they sense their time together, and their love story, may be drawing to a close.
"I tried to shoot the lifelong love of the couple without affectation," Jin told the Korean Times about his fifteen months filming the couple's life. "I would like to say [something] about endless love through this film."
Festival & Awards
DMZ International Film Festival
Moscow International Film Festival
Los Angeles Film Festival
TRT documentary Awards
REPUBLIC of TURKEY, MINISTRY of CULTURE & TOURISM SPECIAL PRIZE
Visions du Réel, Nyon
Millenium Documentary Film Festival
Special Jury Award & La Trois Award (RTBF)
There live a couple who are known as ‘100-year-old lovebirds’. The husband is 98 years old, and the wife is 89 years old. Since 1938, they have lived together for 76 years. They dearly love each other wearing Korean traditional clothes all the time, and still fall asleep hand in hand. As fairy tale’s characters, the husband is strong like a woodman, and the wife is full of charms like a princess. Even now, they express their mind passionately drawing a heart over their head, and say ‘I love you’.
About 80 years ago, he was hired as a house worker for her parents who run a small smithy. Her parents let them get married to make use of him as a worker without paying money. It was great chance for 24-year-old man who lost his parents very young and has no place to stay. But, at the same time, it was a disaster for a 15-year-old girl.
Actually, it was not that strange to get married in early teenage at that time, but he understood her. He just stayed around her without any physical contact for over 3 years. She is still deeply grateful to him for that.
They had 12 children, but lost 6 of them by measles. It still makes them weep very often.
Nowadays, the husband has big difficulties in hearing and conversation with his wife. He goes to hospital very often. Quietly and like a thief, the ‘death’ sit between them.