Starring: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro
OUR RATING: ★★★★☆
A24 romantic drama written and directed by Celine Song. Past Lives (2023) centers on Nora and Hae Sung (Greta Lee and Teo Yoo), two deeply connected childhood friends who are torn apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of destiny, love, and the choices that make a life.
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Couple (Woman): [referring to Nora, Hae Sung, and Arthur] Who do you think they are to each other?
Couple (Man): I don’t know.
Couple (Woman): Yeah, this is a hard one.
Couple (Man): I think the white guy and the Asian girl are a couple, and the Asian guy is her brother.
Couple (Woman): Or the Asian girl and the Asian guy are a couple, and the white guy is their American friend.
Young Hae Sung: [in Korean, to young Nora] I’m always second place to you, but I never cry. If I beat you for the first time ever and you cry, how do you think that makes me feel? You psycho.
Young Nora: [in Korean, referring to Hae Sung] I will probably marry him.
Nora’s Mom: Really? Does he want to marry you too?
Young Nora: He likes me, so he will if I tell him to.
Hae Sung’s Mom: [in Korean, referring to young Nora and Hae Sung] They look so good together.
Na Young’s Childhood Friend: [in Korean] Why are you leaving?
Young Nora: Because I want to.
Na Young’s Childhood Friend: Why do you want to leave?
Young Nora: Because Koreans don’t win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Nora’s Mom: [in Korean] You’d pee your pants all the time.
Nora: A bedwetter lives in New York City.
Nora’s Mom: Yeah. This bedwetter is killing it.
Hae Sung: [in Korean] It’s you. I recognize you.
Nora: You too. I didn’t even know that you remembered me. I just looked for you as a joke, then I saw that you’d been looking for me.
Hae Sung: It wasn’t a joke for me. I tried really hard to find you.
Hae Sung: [in Korean] You used to cry a lot back in those days.
Nora: Almost every day. You would stay with me whenever I was crying.
Hae Sung: Why don’t you cry now? You can’t cry in New York City?
Nora: When I first immigrated, I used to cry a lot, but then I realized that nobody cared.
Hae Sung: [in Korean] I like this.
Hae Sung: Just talking to you.
'If you leave something behind, you gain something too.' - Nora's Mom (Past Lives) Click To Tweet
Hae Sung: [in Korean] It doesn’t make sense, but I’m not sure if I can say something like this.
Nora: What do you want to say?
Hae Sung: I missed you.
Nora: Me too. It doesn’t make any sense.
Hae Sung: [in Korean] You’re the same as the twelve year-old kid I remember.
Hae Sung: Wants to do everything, wants to have everything.
Nora: Has a terrible temper.
Hae Sung: Exactly.
Hae Sung: [in Korean] Would you ever come to Seoul?
Nora: Why would I go to Seoul?
Nora: [in Korean] I want us to stop talking for a while.
Hae Sung: Why?
Nora: I immigrated twice to be here in New York. I want to accomplish something here. I want to commit to my life here, but I’m sitting around looking up flights to Seoul instead.
Hae Sung: [in Korean] It took me twelve years to find my friend.
Nora: I’ll be back before you know it.
Hae Sung: We’re just taking a brief break. I think it’s a good idea.
Hae Sung: [as he starts crying] Why am I like this?
Nora: I’m sorry.
Hae Sung: What are you sorry about? Were we dating or something?
'If two people get married, they say it's because there have been eight thousand layers of In-Yun. Over eight thousand lifetimes.' - Nora (Past Lives) Click To Tweet
Nora: There is a word in Korean. In-Yun. It means “providence”. Or “fate”. But it’s specifically about relationships between people. I think it comes from Buddhism. And reincarnation. It’s an “In-Yun” if two strangers even walk by each other in the street, and their clothes accidentally brush. Because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives. If two people get married, they say it’s because there have been eight thousand layers of In-Yun. Over eight thousand lifetimes.
Arthur: Do you believe in that?
Nora: Believe what?
Arthur: That you and I knew each other in another life.
Nora: What, because we are sitting here, at the same table, in the same city, at the same time?
Arthur: Yeah, wouldn’t that make this In-Yun?
Nora: That’s just something Koreans say to seduce someone.
Arthur: [referring to Hae Sung] Why is he coming here again?
Nora: I think vacation.
Hae Sung’s Friend: [in Korean] You’re not going there to see that girl, right?
Hae Sung: Who?
Hae Sung’s Friend: Why are you pretending not to know who I’m talking about? Your first love. I thought she lives there. You going to see her now that you broke up with your girlfriend?
Hae Sung: You think I’m nuts? She’s married.
'It's like planting two trees in one pot. Our roots need to find their place.' - Nora (Past Lives) Click To Tweet
Hae Sung: [in Korean] What should I say?
Nora: I don’t know.
Hae Sung: Was the last time we talked twelve years ago?
Hae Sung: [in Korean] I’m an only child. If you’re going to marry an only son, he should make more money and be better. I’m too ordinary.
Nora: You’re ordinary?
Hae Sung: My job is ordinary, my income is ordinary. It’s all ordinary. She should meet someone more impressive than me.
Nora: [in Korean, referring to her and Arthur] We lived near here before we moved to the East Village. We did all our dating here. We would fight here too.
Hae Sung: You two fight?
Nora: Oh, yeah. We don’t f*** around.
Hae Sung: Why do you fight?
Nora: Just because. It’s like planting two trees in one pot. Our roots need to find their place.
Nora: [in Korean] You should get married well.
Hae Sung: You’re worrying about me?
Nora: Getting married is hard for idealistic people like you.
Hae Sung: Hey, I’m not so old that you should worry.
Nora: [in Korean] Why did you look for me?
Hae Sung: Twelve years ago? Do you really want to know? I just wanted to see you one more time. I don’t know. Because you just left so suddenly, I was a little pi**ed off.
Hae Sung: What are you sorry about?
Nora: You’re right. There’s nothing to be sorry about.
'This is where we ended up. This is where I'm supposed to be.' - Nora (Past Lives) Click To Tweet
Hae Sung: [in Korean] You disappeared from my life, and I just bam, found you again.
Nora: Why would you do that?
Hae Sung: I don’t know. Just because. You kept entering my mind when I was in the military.
Nora: [in Korean] We were babies then.
Hae Sung: Right. And when we met twelve years ago, we were babies then too.
Nora: We’re not babies anymore.
Nora: You were right.
Arthur: I was?
Nora: [referring to Hae Sung] Yeah. He came here to see me.
Nora: [referring to Hae Sung] It’s so crazy to see him be this grown-up man with a normal job and a normal life. He’s so Korean. He still lives with his parents, which is really Korean. And he has all these really Korean views about everything. And I feel so not Korean when I’m with him. But also, in some way, more Korean? It’s so weird. I mean, I have Korean friends, but he’s not like Korean-American. He’s Korean-Korean.
'What if this is a past life as well, and we are already something else to each other in our next life? Who do you think we are then?' - Hae Sung (Past Lives) Click To Tweet
Arthur: [referring to Hae Sung] Is he attractive?
Nora: I think so. He’s really masculine in this way that I think is so Korean.
Arthur: Are you attracted to him?
Nora: I don’t think so. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think so.
Nora: [referring to Hae Sung] He was just this kid in my head for such a long time. And then, he was just this image on my laptop. And now, he is a physical person. It’s really intense, but I don’t think that that’s attraction. I think I just missed him a lot. I think I missed Seoul.
Arthur: Did he miss you?
Nora: I think he missed the twelve year-old crybaby he knew a long time ago.
Arthur: You were a crybaby?
Nora: Yeah. Most of the time he’d have to just stand there and watch me.
Arthur: That guy flew thirteen hours to be here. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t see him or something. He’s your childhood sweetheart. And it’s not like you’re going to run away with him. Are you?
Nora: Definitely. I’m going to throw away my life here and run away with him to Seoul. Do you even know me? I’m not going to miss my rehearsals for some dude.
Arthur: I know. I know you.
Arthur: I was just thinking about what a good story this is.
Nora: The story of Hae Sung and me?
Arthur: Yeah. I just can’t compete.
Nora: What do you mean?
Arthur: Childhood sweethearts who reconnect twenty years later only to realize they were meant for each other.
Nora: We’re not meant for each other.
Arthur: I know. I know. In the story, I would be the evil white American husband standing in the way of destiny.