One Night and Two Days: Hong Kong Review

One Night and Two Days 2013 Still H
Mature entry into Korean queer cinema canon that sidesteps draconian tropes.

Korean director Leesong Hee-il returns with a trifecta of shorts in his first film since 2009.

It’s a credit to Asian LGBT filmmakers and the producers and production companies that support them that an out Korean director like Leesong Hee-il is now able to shift from the downbeat, typically fatalistic melodrama (What? Happy lesbians? Nonsense!) to explore some of the odd, bizarre, creepy, bittersweet or whatever kind of storytelling that mainstream, heteronormic cinema is blessed with. In One Night and Two Days, a trilogy of shorts pivoting on gay characters, Leesong demonstrates personal and industrial growth with regards to LGBT subject matter that is both refreshing and heartening. Festival play is all but a certainty in broad-spectrum and specialized festivals, and targeted urban distribution wouldn’t be out of the question with a little bit of tinkering.

Back in 2002, Kim In-shik’s Road Movie was among the earliest semi-mainstream films to feature a gay character, naturally a grimy, homeless loner with all manner of negative attributes in addition to being gay. Then, in 2006, Leesong made his groundbreaking No Regret and thrust queer cinema into the genuine mainstream, though it still played to the perception that homosexuality was somehow inherently tragic. In the seven short years since, there’s been a slow shift in Korean cinema, to the point where Kimjho Gwang-soo got away with Two Weddings and a Funeral last year, a film that was basically a rom-com featuring functional, happy gay and lesbian characters.

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Into this shifting climate comes One Night and Two Days. The film is cursed with the same inconsistency as most anthology films, though Leesong’s weakest entry isn’t poorly made so much as it’s dull compared to the other two. The film starts with “Suddenly, Last Summer,” in which a high school teacher, Kyung-hoon (Kim Young-jae) runs into one of his students, Sang-woo (Han Joo-wan, the second coming of Lee Byung-hun) while on parent-teacher rounds. Sang-woo is shameless and persistent in his amorous pursuit of Kyung-hoon, and they end the sweltering summer day at Kyung-hoon’s home. In the standout piece, “White Night,” expatriate Korean flight attendant Won-kyu (Won Tae-hee) spends one layover night looking for two things: revenge on those who subjected him to a gay bashing and some anonymous sex from bike courier Tae-jun (Yi Yi-kyung). Finally, in “Going South,” the weak link, the insecure Gi-tae (Kim Jae-heung), on leave from military duty, seeks assurance from his former superior and probably lover Jun-young (Chun Shin-hwan), a closet case if ever there was one.

One Night would feel more like a coherent whole without each entry’s complete credit sequence to break up the flow (easily remedied), and “White Night” could stand some judicious editing of its own -- either that or more details to stretch it into an independent feature. But overall, Leesong has created a series of relatable, contemporary and blessedly “ungay” films, for lack of a better word: No one dies a tragic death, no one is in love with his straight best friend (admittedly a Taiwanese specialty) and no one is a fashion designer with a lap dog and a lisp.

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“Summer” focuses on a schoolboy crush and the push and pull of attraction when one party should know better. Kyung-hoon isn’t a bad person or a pedophile, but his very human fight against impropriety is vivid. And Leesong and young Han, in a deft turn, never let Sang-woo fall into minx territory. Reminiscent of Before Sunrise in its central premise, “White” stays true to its characters and allows both Won and Yi room to move and flesh out Won-kyu and Tae-jun’s individual personalities. The actors are great together, with a natural chemistry that works for the story and makes Tae-jun’s irrational concern for Won-kyu and the wounded Won-kyu’s driving bitterness wholly believable -- and Leesong leaves room to hope for a happy ending. Cinematographer Yoon Ji-woon does an ace job of visually capturing both the oppressive heat of “Summer” and the misleadingly calm nightscape of “White.” Sadly, “South” isn’t nearly as memorable as the preceding films, and though Kim and Chun are game, the story never rises above rote scorned-lover histrionics.

Producer: Kim Il-kwon
Director: Leesong Hee-il
Cast: Kim Young-jae, Han Joo-wan, Won Tae-hee, Yi Yi-kyung, Kim Jae-heung, Chun Shin-hwan
Screenwriter: Leesong Hee-il
Director of Photography: Yoon Ji-woon

No rating, 159 minutes