Kang-soo (played by Kim Nam-gil) is an insurance adjuster who has had a very, very rough time as of late. His wife Seon-hwa (played by Im Hwa-young) is dead, and all Kang-soo can do to distract himself from the misery is focus on his work and get drunk at night in a feeble effort to alleviate the pain. So it's little surprise that when Mi-so (played by Chun Woo-hee) asks Kang-soo the rather peculiar question "can you see me?", Kang-soo is evasive and fails to catch on to the strange evolving situation.
A lot of fantastic movies do the whole "main character refuses to engage with the improbable plot" extended opening, and usually it annoys me to no end when a film avoids its own premise. But director Lee Yoon-ki really makes the most of Kang-soo's ennui by using it to establish just how depressed the poor man is. It's not just Mi-so that Kang-soo is avoiding- Kang-soo despises the concept of life in general because that's how bad his grief is.
And Mi-so's odd requests quickly make for an effective counter-point. Mi-so sees the world in wonder, and through her constant pestering of Kang-soo, that sad man too is able to appreciate the sublime beauty of ordinary days. This doesn't make Kang-soo any less depressed, but we slowly see Kang-soo's life become bearable. Kang-soo's disregard for the world nearly becomes charming, tempered as it is by his desire to be a kind tour guide for Mi-so.
Then we get to the final conflict which I still feel...ambivalent about. All I can really say is that Mi-so's final request is very emotionally charged, and I would not blame anyone for being furious with Kang-soo's final decision. Although a lot of this depends on how you look at Kang-soo's overall character arc. Is his depression a consequence of the fact that his wife is dead, or a reflection of greater self-esteem issues resulting specifically from how she died?
Both interpretations are defendable, and not necessarily even mutually exclusive, although the ending only really works from the second one. But then, the main reason why that furious feeling comes up is less due to the plot and more thanks to the impressive performance of Kim Nam-gil. "One Day" is a major highlight in his career- his emotional climax here rivals the final episode of "Queen Seondeok" in terms of sheer heartfelt power, and with quite a deal less proper build-up.
Granted, as a melodrama, "One Day" does have a pretty strong structural advantage when it comes to that. While technically not a love story, "One Day" has all the proper hallmarks of one. We have two lost souls resigned to the inherent cruelty of twisted fate managing to find, if only for a little while, joy in being able to appreciate the happiness that exists all around them, and the beauty all the more poignant because we don't always notice it. "One Day" hits where it hurts, and I love it all the more for that.
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.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "One Day""
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