By David Pountain
London Korean Film Festival review
Director: Jeong-Yeol Choi
What starts off as a warm and humorous ode to the reckless stupidity of youth soon evolves into a surprisingly potent indictment of the cynical self-interest of the adult world in writer-director Jeong-Yeol Choi’s promising feature debut, One Way Trip (aka Glory Day). Through the experiences of four naïve young knuckleheads, we are dragged through a bleakly indifferent legal system that rewards a pervasive and corrupt culture of cowardly blame-shifting.
This darker, more socially conscious terrain is foreshadowed in the film’s opening minutes, which see the four young men in question – Yong-bi, Sang-woo, Ji-gong and Doo-man – running from a couple of doltish police officers. Just when it looks like they might be in the clear, Sang-woo is knocked down by a hit-and-run and Yong-bi is caught while trying to check on his friend. Pressured by authorities who use Sang-woo’s critical condition for emotional leverage, Yong-bi feels he has no choice but to turn in his remaining two friends.
Through flashbacks we then see the evening of goofy social camaraderie that brought them to this point. Ditching their various duties to go on a short trip before Sang-woo leaves for the military, their clownish journey ends when they happen upon a drunk man beating his wife. After a sad and sloppy fight to ward off the perpetrator, the four friends are rewarded for their Good Samaritan efforts with the threat of jail time as they find themselves unwittingly playing the roles of patsies in someone else’s noirish tale.
Viewers may be surprised by how little time is spent on fleshing out and investigating the initial deception that gets the young men framed for manslaughter but, in keeping the setup simple, the film stresses the harsh irremediable nature of the situation, leaving the boys with nothing to do but accept the instigating lies as fact and find a way to wriggle their way out. This is a film about putting aside the truth for the sake of saving your own skin. And so the boys’ parents come in and start pointing fingers, arguing over who should take the fall. The young men soon catch onto the seriousness of their situation and follow suit, with the exception of Sang-woo who remains unconscious in the hospital while his grandmother worries.
The direction of Jeong-Yeol Choi can at times feel too mild and workmanlike for the film to truly make the most of the grimly satirical, socio-political content of Choi’s script but that’s not to say that he doesn’t possess the technical prowess to keep the drama compelling. Still, the real meat of the film comes from its writing, which reinvigorates the well-worn genre of coming-of-age flicks that portray the transition into adulthood as a loss of innocence. Through its microcosmic tragedy, One Way Trip navigates this territory on layers both personal and societal to create a disconcerting picture of the adult world’s complex, adaptable and hypocritical notions of responsibility.
The 2016 London Korean Film Festival runs 3-27 November. Find the full programme here.
To bring One Way Trip to your region, cast your DooVote here!