One Day (2017) Korean Movie Review
“Ghost” human dramas…
Movies that are not meant to scare you but move your cold — but secretly romantic — Grinch heart. You have a normal living character bump into a being from the land of the not so living. He or she fall in love; learns about life and works through personal issues. The “ghost” touches that person’s life and then moves on. It is a magical character like Mary Poppins that comes into a character’s life to shake it up. The “de-magical” version of those movies would be the “Manic pixie dream girl” movies e.g. “Elizabethtown” (2005) starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst.
Trust me. Everybody is less mysterious than they think they are.
A subsection of Ghost human dramas are “out of body/comatose” movies. Rather than having the magical character be dead, just have the character experience an out-of-body experience while the character’s physical body is lying on a bed in a hospital. These movies have been popular for some time since there are more options for dramatic development than actually dealing with a ghost. There were not many endings possible, as an example, for the movie “Ghost” (1990) since Patrick Swayze’s character was long dead at the conclusion of the movie. The best it could do was to use Whoopi Goldberg’s body for one last physical interaction. And even that was somewhat pushing it for some people.
In “out of body/comatose” movies, you could wake the character out of a coma. “Happy end” the baby! Reese Witherspoon’s “Just Like Heaven” (2005) went in that direction. Or just let them peacefully pass while those left move on. It’s the writer’s choice.
“One Day” (2017), the Korean movie starring Kim Nam-Gil and Chun Woo-Hee, is also an “out of body/comatose” movie.
In “One Day” (2017), Kim Nam-Gil — with his trademark mustache— plays an insurance investigator who had lost his wife of an illness or in an accident. It is not made clear in the beginning. We, the audience, are not given a clear timeframe of when it happened but enough time has passed that none of his coworkers mention nor even show him the usual fake sympathy mandatory in polite society. However, it is still raw for him and he is not coping with the loss at all.
As a personal note, I would call it vanilla PG level misery as the best he can do it a bit over drink. He doesn’t even go have “self-hate” laden dirty hookup which is odd since there was a side character perfect for that.
One day, at the hospital in his work territory, he sees a woman in her twenties who only he can see. Of course, that is the comatose/vegetable character played by the cute and charming actress Chun Woo-Hee. Not only is she in a coma but she was blind even before the accident that put her in a coma. Ready for tears! She was hit by a car insured by Kim Nam-Gil’s character’s company who is the protagonist of this movie. Yes, it is oddly convenient plot-wise. The rest of the movie — human drama but not a romance — is what you would expect from this setup. It is rather unambitious in that way in how it sticks to the standard formula for this type of movie. That is … until it gets ambitious; too ambitious some —me —might say.
Being a standard movie of its genre.
In many cases, it is difficult to judge a movie without considering its genre. The perceived quality of movies tends to coincide with how many boxes it checks off that its audience — genre fans mostly —wants and expects. If you toss in a few unexpected elements, it does elevate the movie and creates crossover appeal. However, the foundation is still those boxes. I need to check them off. In these terms, “One Day” (2017) is decent for the genre of movie it is. The direction and editing of the movie is workmanlike — as you would expect — but is competent enough for genre standards. Information and intended emotions are delivered to the audience without any confusion of purpose or content. So nothing interrupts the “feels” whether it is the warming of your heart or breaking it by flooding it with tears. For a fan of the genre, you will get both watching “One Day” (2017).
The pace of this 114-minute movie runs in a leisurely but consistent pace. Tonally, this movie is neither a romantic comedy nor or even comedy. It is more of a “down to earth” drama; a human drama. “One Day” (2017) is down to earth to the degree that the few moments of comedy — even has a fainting gag — earlier in the movie feels out of place. The funny thing to state about this movie considering one of the characters is essentially a ghost albeit technically she is an out body soul. How can this be?
Yes, there is a fantastical aspect of this movie. However, the female “soul” — let’ use that term instead of outer body entity or ghost— of the character played by Chun Woo-Hee is the only thing not down to earth in this movie. The rest are characters going about their lives and trying to make sense of it all. In fact, Chun Woo-Hee’s character doesn’t really affect the reality of the movie. She is basically an echo/imaginary friend in the protagonist’s mind. Thus, the slow but steady pacing of the movie is suiting. If you are a fan of this type of movie, the pace will not bother you.
In terms of visual composition, down to earth dramas can be overly mundanity; noticeable mundane. In other words, boring! The visuals of “One Day” (2017) is nothing too glamorous but interesting enough to get the job done. By which I mean make the lead characters look like they have chemistry when they are together and distract the audience when they are not together. What more can you ask for? “One Day” (2017) works in that area. Then, there is the actors.
In terms of characters, this movie is about the two characters for all intense and purposes. It is about the bubble of reality and unreality that exists around them. Thus, it is carried by Kim Nam-Gil and Chun Woo-Hee. None of the other characters and cast is of any significance; the other characters are basically just there as functional pieces of the plot. And none of the others in the cast are memorable in terms of acting nor screen presence. The exception is actor Yoon Je-Moon of “The King 2hearts” (2012). He is always at least memorable. And no! He doesn’t play a villain. Just a normal down on the luck side character with some shady aspects. You cannot have Yoon Je-Moon be totally normal even in this movie. While nice to see him on screen, the fact that he is in the cast is distracting as he is the only one with significant screen presence — fame— among the supporting cast.
This means that actor Kim Nam-Gil and actress Chun Woo-hee has to carry the movie. And they are able to pull it off. We have seen actor Kim Nam-Gil in movies such as “Pandora” (2016) and Korean dramas such as “Shark” (2013). He is one of those actors that basically play a variation of the same character. Down on his luck; miserable; disheveled; dirty pretty; these would be good descriptions of his roles. And he seems to make it work for him as an actor. He consistently works. At the same time, he is not good enough to rise to the level of a character actor. He has too much of the dirty pretty boy image —even though it has faded with age—to him. So, he has a very narrow range of roles in which he is good. His role in “One Day” (2017) works as it is in his comfort zone. It is just the right bit of miserable and emotional death for him. His chemistry with actress Chun Woo-Hee is also decent which is a requirement for this type of movie.
Actress Chun Woo-Hee! We have seen her in the Korean movies “The Wailing” (2016) and “Han Gong-Ju” (2013). All more heavy and suspenseful roles. Unlike those roles, she is the “Manic pixie dream girl” of “One Day” (2017) but without the manic. The movie’s tone wouldn’t fit with a manic character. Her character is nice, cheerful, and emotionally hurt underneath the surface. You are happy when you see her act elated in reaction to seeing the world for the first time in the “fish out of water” portion of the movie. Your heart breaks when you see her cry. So, you could say she is more than qualified for the role?
“One Day” (2017) could have been a decent movie for fans of this genre. For most of the movie, what you get is that standard genre movie. Then, the movie got ambitious in its 3rd act. While something like that should be encouraged, the results aren’t guaranteed to work. The 3rd act shift of “One Day” (2017) — want to be a serious drama! — falls in the category of the negative as to how the story structure was built up couldn’t support the extra load.
What I mean by this is that, even though “One Day” (2017) has two lead characters, it is really one character’s story. It is the widower character’s story played by actor Kim Nam-Gil. The “soul” character played by actress Chun Woo-Hee is more just there to talk, cheer, and be a sounding board for the protagonist. She doesn’t provide the information he didn’t already know. She doesn’t act in a manner that affects the world around her since she is a soul without physical form.
As a side note, she cannot touch anything except for him. Just weird….so physical intercourse is possible? Think about the options… I’ll get my mind out of the gutter.
Back on track; within the story, there is no problem seeing “soul” character as a figment of the protagonist’s mind; a warped, “off his rocker”, “where is the straight jacket” mind. The movie is not saying this but it could be interpreted in fashion. Why does this matter? This means that, according to the story structure, the “soul” character is without plot agency through most of the movie until the 3rd act. And she didn’t need to be until the twist. After that point, this becomes an issue.
Turning dark… very dark!
Think Hilary Swank’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)!
Think Emilia Clarke’s “Me Before You” (2016)!
“One Day” (2017) becomes an assisted suicide message movie at the end. Considering the context of the story, it is a legitimate place to go in terms of the plot. However, there are 3 huge problems with its execution. First, the tone. Until the 3rd act, the movie is a human drama that is sometimes sad but also sometimes a very cheerful movie. So, the suddenly dark tonal shift can give you whiplash. Second, the motivation of the protagonist is undercooked. It is not like Emilia Clarke’s character in “Me Before You” (2016) in which the motivations are simple and without experiential complications. She is a young woman without much life experience. She just doesn’t want him to die but has to accept it because her love has made up his mind. Our protagonist’s motivations — the widower — are complicated with his traumatic experience of his deceased wife passing. All those conflicting emotions have to merge together and get resolved in order to validate his actions on screen. I mean killing her! And the movie didn’t get there with building up the protagonists yet.
Finally, as mention previously, the “soul” character played by actress Chun Woo-hee has no agency within the reality of the movie. Thus, the protagonist is essentially murdering her in terms of the reality of the movie since the request/permission of hers only exists within the head of the protagonist. It is the downside of the premise. The execution of the movie doesn’t help by making the movie so grounded. The only supernatural aspect of the movie is him seeing her, which, in turn, can be explained by a grounded answer. He is CRAZY!
You could basically view this movie as the protagonist hallucinating the whole thing because of an emotional break from grief and going on an “Angel of Mercy” serial killer spree. I would buy this hypothetical twist more than I bought the actual twist of Bluebeard (2017). Considering their portrayal, from the perspective of the other characters in the movie, that would have been the correct conclusion they would have come to since he has been acting very weird for a while with red flags popping up all the time. You could imagine them giving an interview about him when he got caught after killing like 20 patients.
“He was acting weird ever since his wife died”
“He said he was seeing ghosts”
“He was talking into thin air”
“He claimed he had no control over his body”
Where is the crew of “Criminal minds” (2005~) when you need them?
Am I overthinking it? Well, it could be but that just proves that the movie hadn’t properly prepared its audience for its ending.
At the end of the day, “One Day” (2017) is a decently made movie of its genre. I enjoyed most of it. It is a shame the movie got too ambitious at the end for its own good. There was a nice point in the story where it could have concluded and it would have been sad but also nice. Ultimately I think that was the reaction the movie was going for. However, “One Day” (2017) overshot it by a lot. It became too emotionally heavy to sustain itself. This is especially true for the kind of audience that would be attracted to see most of the movie. Those folk doesn’t want that kind of twist in their movies.