The 2018 film Stand By Me (덕구/Deok-Goo) is an absolutely terrific character-driven slice of life story. Steller performances from veteran Lee Soon Jae and the young Jung Ji Hoon power the simple, but emotional and relatable film.
Lee Soon Jae stars as a grandfather who cares for his two grandchildren Deok Goo (Jung Ji Hoon) and Deok Hee (Park Ji Yoon) on his own. Grandfather must work odd jobs around their rural town to help them stay afloat a year after the death of his son and the forced departure of his daughter-in-law, Vanessa (Cherish Maningat).
Young Deok Goo does what he can to help his grandfather from time to time, but can’t help to also act like the young child that he is. For example, throwing a tantrum when Grandfather doesn’t get the toy that he asks for. As much as he cares for his Grandfather, Deok Goo can’t help but feel jealous of the other kids who have their parents with them. And the conflicting feelings he has reach a boiling point.
Grandfather, however, learns he does not have much time to live. Wanting to ensure his grandchildren’s well-being, he goes on a journey that opens a new perspective to things he has long believed. As does Deok Goo who realizes just how much his Grandfather means to him.
Stand By Me may be a simple story on paper. Maybe even on screen. But it is packed with so much heart and sincerity. It absolutely helps that Lee Soon Jae and Jung Ji Hoon share such magical chemistry as grandfather and grandson. The film revolves around them. And their performances are a major factor in the film’s narrative success.
Their back and forths, which get pretty heated at times during the film, feel so real and natural. Perhaps even more so than similar scenes between adults in other films and television series. The rapport they have allows them to play off each other in both a playful and dramatic way.
And that kind of chemistry is absolutely necessary in a film and story like this. At the heart of the film, Stand By Me depicts what could be any family’s situation and dynamic. They may fight and say they hate each other, but deep down, they know how much they love each other and will always come back to each other.
It’s a beautiful dynamic to watch, especially between two actors with such a big age gap. But they fit their roles perfectly. And the grandfather-grandson relationship, in both good times and bad times, is just absolutely engaging.
It’s hard not to feel emotional at several points during the film. And in fact, the film probably could’ve gone a little longer as well. Even if the material for a longer runtime might not be readily there, just watching Lee Soon Jae and Jung Ji Hoon (along with little Park Ji Yoon as well) would be a treat in and of itself.
It is a film that takes some familiar themes and throws in unexpected twists and turns. And each turn helps to build toward what is not just one, but a few emotional climaxes throughout the film.
The stunning cinematography and careful direction accentuate the solid writing and the stellar performances from a strong cast, led of course by Lee Soon Jae and Jung Ji Hoon.
Stand By Me is an emotional, heartfelt film. A story that is relatable, but also exciting and engaging. It feels familiar and fresh at the same time. And its sincerity brings it all together in what is an excellent film and worthwhile viewing experience. Simply beautiful.