'One Way Trip': Film Review

One Way Trip still 2 -H 2016
Courtesy Deltamac/CJ Entertainment
A solid if stylistically unremarkable coming-of-age tale that’s not afraid to go dark.

Choi Jeong-yeol mixes drama and crime procedural for a debut starring a quartet of South Korea’s up-and-coming leading men.

The loss of innocence and its ensuing disillusionment are at the heart of writer-director Choi Jeong-yeol’s ambitious and reasonably engaging debut, One Way Trip, a film that turns a jaundiced eye toward our poorer instincts and behavior and all but cautions against doing the right thing.

Originally bearing the ironic title Glory Day, the movie is brisk, delicately challenging and frequently surprising in its dedication to narrative logic, regardless of how miserable the story may become. Suffice it to say, One Way Trip doesn’t have a happy ending filled with revelations and deeper self-awareness. The cast of rising, appealing young stars should gain the film considerable traction in Asia-Pacific and Choi’s solid if unflashy filmmaking could earn it a spot in Asia-focused festivals around the world. Urban markets where sales agent CJ Entertainment’s reputation should engender goodwill could also take note.

Starting at the end, as is so trendy in thrillers it seems, four friends have traveled to the southeastern port town of Pohang for one last hurrah, as one of the quartet is reporting for military duty the next day. Sang-woo (EXO boybander Suho) is going to bypass university, do his service and get a cushy government job to support his grandmother, his primary, selfless guardian. The other three are fairly average but essentially good guys: de facto ringleader Yong-bi (Ji Soo, Han Gong-Ju) comes from something of a troubled home, Ji-gong (Ryu Jun-yeol, Sori) is a sheltered mamma’s boy. Both flamed out on college entrance exams. Doo-man (Kim Hee-chan) is a budding baseball player with an athletic scholarship who doesn’t really like baseball.

The four are enjoying their last evening together for two years when they witness a couple arguing in a car, which quickly tips into wife-battering. They intervene, a police chase ensues and the end result is one dead abusive husband and Sang-woo in a coma. The rest of the evening — and their lives — unravel when the wife (Lee Ji-yeon), a prominent TV personality, opts to protect her reputation rather than make a truthful statement to police.

One Way Trip is typical of its kind: a brutal coming-of-age tale (a trend started with Bleak Night) wherein young men are smacked in the face with the more despicable side of human nature and compelled to reconcile their futures with it. Credit to first-time filmmaker Choi for attempting to tackle some thorny subjects, among them the all-important value of “what the neighbors will think” still plaguing Korea, perception and stigmatization, unattainable parental expectations and overburdened police departments.

Despite all the elements essentially being links in one long chain, Choi almost bites off more than he can reasonably chew in a slight 90 minutes. Watching the three young men wrestle with their consciences and occasionally let fear win out is the most compelling element of the story, and Choi would have been wise to zero in on that more as opposed to, say, spending needless time with a mustache twirler of a police captain who just wants to clear his caseload.

The young cast acquits itself fairly well, with Ji Soo doing most of the heavy lifting as the person most affected by the turn of events; the few sequences with Kim Dong-wan as his older brother are especially strong, and both actors are nicely nuanced.

From an aesthetic perspective, the movie is serviceable rather than creative, but Choi, cinematographer Lee Hyung-bin, and the rest of the technical crew turn in strong work, with Lee in particular doing a nice job of subtly shading the events of the boys’ defining night with dark edges. Too often the intercut flashback technique is overplayed or distracting, but in the right circumstances it can heighten the emotional impact of the present, which it does here. By juxtaposing the foursome’s initial cusp-of-adulthood joy and friendship, Choi makes the final outcome all the more tragic and thoughtful.

Production company: Bori Pictures
Cast: Ji Soo, Suho, Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Hee-chan, Kim Dong-wan, Kim Jong-soo, Moon Hee-kyung, Yoo Ha-bok, Lee Ji-yeon
Director: Choi Jeong-yeol
Screenwriter: Choi Jeong-yeol
Producer: Ahn Byung-rae
Executive producer: Yim Soon-rye
Director of photography: Lee Hyung-bin
Production designer: Lee Ji-yeon
Costume designer: Suh Eun-kyung
Editor: Lee Yeon-jeong
Music: Jeong Kyo-im
World sales: CJ Entertainment
In Korean

No rating, 94 minutes