The untranslatable Korean word for eternal love

One of the reasons that the word’s Buddhist roots may be overlooked in modern Korean society is a decline in the use of hanja. Hanja, or Sino-Korean, was a system of writing in Korean using Chinese characters before the invention of the modern Korean writing system, Hangul, in 1443. While Koreans still use Hanja to disassemble and study a word’s meaning, one common misunderstanding about inyeon is that the in comes from the character for human (ingan) and connection (yungeol).

Individual interpretations of inyeon

“Of course, how one interprets [inyeon] could change the way one approaches the film,” Dr Fan says in a discussion via email. Were Hae Sung and Nora destined to be, and did Arthur get in the way? Do you believe that the characters’ outcomes and subsequent relationships were the result of actions and feelings? Or do you believe that their stories were determined by destiny?

Although Dr Fan does not believe that the expression of free will in Past Lives stays true to the Buddhist meaning of inyeon, he argues that a Buddhist interpretation of the film is not necessary. Instead, it’s an opportunity for the viewer to examine the filmmaker’s relationship to the concept and perhaps, our own as well.

Engaging with the idea is more important than whether the film is giving us a correct definition and representation of a philosophical concept, he says. “It is in itself a beautiful way to draw our attention to the interconnectedness of all sentient beings, especially those people whom we love and care about deeply.”

Past Lives is available to stream now on Prime Video and Paramount+.


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