One Way Trip (aka Glory Day) (Geulroridei)
Korea (2016) Dir. Choi Jeong-Yeol
Sometimes even the most noble of intentions can backfire and lead to a situation no-one could have possibly predicted. For his debut, Choi Jeong-Yeol takes this as his core premise around which he tells the tale of the last night four friends will spend together and the tragic outcome that will haunt them for the rest of their days.
On the eve of his enlisting for military service, Sang-woo (Suho) is being taken to the port town of Pohang by his close friends Yong-bi (Ji Soo), Ji-gong (Ryu Jun-yeol) and Doo-man (Kim Hee-chan) for a last day of fun. Having already sneaked away from prior commitments, the lads are enjoying a carefree day out until the night time when they witness a man (Heo Joon-Seok) beating a woman (Lee Ji-yeon).
The lads dutifully step in so the man starts a fight with them instead, but the numbers game works against him and he is eventually knocked out after falling off the harbour into a boat below. The woman has since long gone but the police chase the boys, ending when Sang-woo is knocked down by a hit and run driver. Yet the police don’t believe the boys’ story and things continue to go against their favour.
It would be easy to dismiss this as another “let’s expose the corrupt police force and selfishness of others” but as long as such things exists in Korean (or any) life then filmmakers are going to harvest as much as material out of it as possible. For a debutante director Choi might be a little over his head but deserves our kudos for tackling this issue anyway.
However, as bleak and gnarly the story gets Choi opts for an emotional anchor in the form of the four boys at the centre of this tale, the spiralling nature of their plight and the challenges their friendship is forced to face. Choi’s script slowly leaks tidbits of information about their backstories in relation to their home lives, which plays an important part in the parental influence over their actions.
The film opens in media res with the chase through the streets of Pohang by two duty police officers following the as yet unrevealed incident of domestic abuse. Choi wastes little time in plotting the future course for our protagonists with Sang-woo’s accident; the boy is laying in a pool of his own blood with Yong-bi cradling him, yet all the wooden tops are concerned with is arresting Yong-bi.
At the local station the boys are not listened to, the cops show less concern about Sang-woo which enrages Yong-bi, and his disruption of the interview sees the lads are transferred to the police criminal headquarters. Unfortunately, a tired and irritable Team Leader Oh (Kim Jong-Soo) is equally unwilling to listen to their story, and they trouble is compounded further by the arrival of the female victim they tried to save.
Instead of corroborating the boys’ story, the woman, revealed as local TV anchor Park Eun-hye, tearfully claims the lads killed her recently discovered deceased husband in an unprovoked attack. Why would she do such a thing? Well, with her public reputation and that of the TV studio in jeopardy as a result of the infidelity her husband had evidently discovered, some damage limitation was required and who better to take the fall than a gang of unruly teens?
By now the audience is firmly appalled at seeing the boys being hung out to dry by the adults around them, further perpetuating the disillusionment and distrust the Korean youth has with their elders in modern society a sentiment that will resonate on a global scale, I’m sure. But it isn’t over yet, as the parents have been called in and are quick to blame the other sons for this mess.
Choi absolutely plays upon our emotions from the start and cannot resist manipulating them to very end, keeping his cards very close to his chest before dealing further shocking, unexpected twists. In painting this unflattering and accusatory picture of modern day Korea, Choi is relentless in showing just how deep self-preservation runs on every rung of the social ladder, be it personal or professional.
Even if you feel that a number of genre contrivances are in play here, they have been deftly woven into the script to form a credible catalogue of procedural malfeasance and perfidious forces conspiring against the three remaining boys. Meanwhile Sang-woo lies in hospital in a critical condition, with the true victim of all of this being his selfless grandmother (Lee Joo-Sil) holding a vigil buy his bedside.
If you are looking for a happy ending you won’t find one here, which may be a slight spoiler but looking at it within the context of what Choi is saying with his film, it was the right call to make. It perfectly delineates and encapsulates his central ideas and themes, reinforcing the inherent moral and physical casualties incurred through collective corruptive acts of self-preservation.
The lead performances are the lynchpin of the audience’s investment. Suho, from K-Pop boy band EXO-K, has the least screen time as Sang-woo but acquits himself well, and doesn’t look out of place next to his more experienced co-stars. Kim Hee-Chan and Ryu Jun-yeol are both wildcards in charting the emotional growth of Doo-man and Ji-gong respectively, bolstered by a strong fulcrum performance from Ji Soo as Yong-Bi.
For a first time outing, Choi has yet to establish a visual identity or style of his own but shows an adroit sense for plotting, character definition and piecemeal unravelling of a complex tale. The production values are very high and Choi gives his clearly experienced crew a lot to work with, creating a familiar but nonetheless pleasing aesthetic and nicely nuanced atmospheres.
One Way Trip has a lot to say and holds our attention for its 93-minute duration, proving a worthy addition to the already crowded milieu of Korean crime thrillers with this gripping, poignant and deceptively multi-layered debut.