[HanCinema's Film Review] "I Have a Date with Spring"
By William Schwartz | Published on
Director Gwi-dong (played by Kang Ha-neul) is hanging out in the woods with a busted arm eating a birthday cake and checking out his own profile on South Korean film websites. He made "Members of the Funeral", a reference to actual director Baek Seung-bin's first movie. But anyway, Gwi-dong is sad, pathetic and lonely looking. Then there's an ominous explosion and some weird hikers pop up out of nowhere. One of them claims to be a big fan of Gwi-dong's work, and asks to see his next scenario.
This leaves the metatext of "I Have a Date with Spring" in an odd place. The other three leads are implied to be characters in Gwi-dong's movie-within-a-movie, yet they all hear the same ominous explosion and run into strange people much as Gwi-dong does. Ha-na (played by Kim So-hee-I) is a high school student who likes drawing creepy spider pictures. Middle-aged professor Eui-mu (played by Kim Hak-sun) is waiting to hear from his mother. Su-min (played by Jang Young-nam) is a former radical turned housewife who appears to hate her family.
The unifying factor between all four characters is that they're miserable and listless even though it's their birthday. Post-explosion, the whole world around them becomes very desolate and empty. Where is everybody? Are they dead? Who can say? Obvious metaphorical implications notwithstanding the main focus is on their birthday presents. Although I will confess I don't exactly understand the symbolism of getting a birthday present right before the apocalypse.
I was disappointed that "I Have a Date with Spring" put so much effort into being pretentious. The overall flick works a lot better as an anthology horror film. There's only a few telegraphed scares in here but they're still still legitimately frightening because everything about the world the main characters are wandering around in just feels so obviously wrong. Yet through sheer force of will, none of them address the dejected empty landscape they're subjected to, and try to put aside questions of why it's become impossible to contact their families.
That's because they all suffer from chronic loneliness, and are willing to take a reprieve in the form of random traveling companions. Ha-na's road trip, Eui-mu's journey with physical disfigurement, and Su-min's lapse into mind-altering substances are all variants on the theme of birthdays for lonely people. All they want is to avoid spending that birthday alone. Consequently, they have tunnelvision when it comes to any ominous happenings in the background.
As strong as this theming is I really wish that "I Have a Date with Spring" had come together in a more obvious way. The endings have surprisingly little in common with each other. Two stories end with implied character death at the hands of otherworldly forces, while the other two leads appear to be making plans for some kind of future. I get that sad people on their birthday have trouble caring about much of anything, let alone the apocalypse, even so I think we as viewers really deserved some sort of cursory explanation at minimum.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.