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That simple statement expresses everything there is to know about Jin-ho Hur’s One Fine Spring Day, a movie that is about the awkwardness of attraction and the pain of a burning passion suddenly doused. It is about love found, love enthralled, and finally love lost.
Sang-woo lives with his father, his stepmother, and grandmother in the South Korean countryside. They’re out in the country, although you wouldn’t know it by Sang-woo’s many electronics, including a cellphone and his job as a sound engineer dubbing voices for TV shows. Sang-woo and his family is caring for his elderly grandmother, who is suffering from the loss of her husband. We learn that years ago Sang-woo’s grandfather cheated on his wife, and that betrayal continues to haunt the family. Despite that, the grandmother’s love for her husband has never diminished because she journeys each morning to the town bus station to wait for her husband to return home from work. The movie hints that Sang-woo’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s, but one suspects it’s actually more of a self-inflicted illness.
One day, Sang-woo is hired for a temporary project to record nature sounds with a young woman who works as a DJ at a radio station in the next town over. The woman, Eun-su, and Sang-woo immediately falls for one another, and their romance begins after a few awkward moments where both take tentative baby steps toward a relationship. Once they give in to the passion, they are inseperable, and life seems effortless and grand. That is, until the passion begins to leave Eun-su and she finds herself wishing to withdraw from Sang-woo, but unsure how to do it. Unfortunately for the fledging couple, Sang-woo’s passion for Eun-su shows no signs of abating.
One Fine Spring Day takes place over a few months and the movie moves slowly, with director Hur taking great pains to frame every single shot perfectly. His camera rarely moves beyond the initial establishing shot, and actors move in and out of frame, giving us the feeling of outsiders being given a secret peek into the lives of these two people. Despite the continuation of long takes, there is enough emotional action taking place within the frame that one never gets tired of the device. There is no doubt the South Korean countryside is a beautiful place, and rather covered in snow or suffering under a downpour, the countryside is lovingly photographed and brought to vibrant life. In one scene, the soft, languid flutter of snowflakes turns an ordinary scene into something extraordinary.
Hur is lucky to have found two perfect actors in Ji-Tae Yu (Sang-woo) and Yeong-ae Le (Eun-su). Yu brings a sense of vulnerability to his role as Sang-woo, a confidant young man who falls head over heels for Eun-su, and is unable to relinquish that feeling even after Eun-su begins to drop hints that she needs to move on. Lee’s Eun-su is not entirely unlikable, although she does do some unflattering things toward the love-struck Sang-woo that might appear harsh and even cruel. Her character is in transition, a young woman who needs affection and gets it from Sang-woo, but we always get the feeling she is not in love, but rather in love with the notion of having someone with her.
Sang-woo, it seems, was a convenient lover. It isn’t long before Eun-su drifts toward someone else, leaving Sang-woo to deal with the pieces of their relationship and his unchanged feelings for her. How he deals with it is enough to make you cringe, but at the same time you can’t help but completely understand because we’ve all been there. This is human nature. This is what happens when someone you’re in love with falls out of love with you.
To say that not much happens in One Fine Spring Day is an understatement. The movie moves at a languid pace, although once you become engrossed in the film it’s hard to imagine that the movie could have moved at any other pace. Things are perfectly timed, and everything seems in perfect step with life, nature, and the process of new love. One Fine Spring Day is a hell of a fine movie, and it is quite impossible not to be drawn into the human emotions of the story, even as it shifts back and forth from Sang-woo’s struggles to understand what is happening to his love life and Sang-woo’s family as they struggle to care for Sang-woo’s grandmother, who seems to be getting worst with each day. The grandmother’s story fits perfectly into the movie’s main theme of love found and lost, and the heartbreak that comes with trying to get over someone who doesn’t seem to have all that much trouble getting over you.
Love is grand. But it also hurts like a sonofabitch.
Jin-ho Hur (director) / Jin-ho Hur (screenplay)
CAST: Yeong-ae Lee …. Eun-su
Ji-tae Yu …. Sang-woo
Sang-hui Baek …. Grandmother
In-hwan Park …. Father