With omnibus films currently all the rage, producers are now finding all sorts of reasons – from focusing on a city to even filmmaking pride – to string a few short films together into a two-hour feature. Korean independent film distributor IndieStory chooses to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Korean Independence with One Shining Day, a series of three short films about the relationship between Japan and Korea. Shot on DV, the three films have a low-budget charm and a depth of character that polished co-productions like Virgin Snow just can't achieve. However, each film also has imperfections and problems that commercial films can't even avoid.
The international love-fest starts off with "The Treasure Island" by Kim Sung-Ho (of the horror film Into the Mirror). Taking place entirely on Jeju Island, the short film follows Japanese girls Mie and Eiko as they arrive at the picturesque island to retrieve a "treasure" that Mie's grandfather buried there during the colonial period. However, as most fish out of water stories show, two people visiting a foreign country for the first time without being able to speak the language are bound to run into a few dangerous situations, among them con men and also some mean jocks.
Kim Sung-Ho gets some mileage out of his fish out of water story, as the girls get into one troubling situation after another. Kim even serves up an intriguing twist two-thirds of the way through that changes the course of the story. However, anyone who knows what the Japanese language sounds like will have a hard time being convinced by lead actresses Yukie Mori and Seo Yeong-Hwa (known as Kiki Sugino in Japan). Even though both were born in Japan as 3rd generation Korean-Japanese, both possess Korean-accented Japanese that ranges from somewhat weak to very strong (especially in Seo's case). Even with the twist partly explaining the issue, the characters of “The Treasure Island” are unconvincing and may end up alienating a large portion of the intended audience. Even for viewers who don't speak Japanese, the two protagonists are too underdeveloped to make their actions credible.
In the beginning, there doesn't seem to be much connection between Japan-Korea relations and One Shining Day's second film “Good-bye”, from writer-director Kim Jong-Kwan. The teen drama follows high school student Jong-Hwan, who goes around town scamming people by selling his laptop for dirt cheap, only to switch the package before his customers notice. The Japan-Korea connection is revealed halfway through when the audience finds out that Jong-Hwan is saving the money from his criminal doings to find his mother in Japan, and the “shining day” in question happens to be the day he flies. Before he leaves, he skips school with best friend Yong-Su and shows him the ropes of his laptop scam.
“Good-bye” is the darkest film of the three, and Kim Jong-Hwan gives the film a gritty realism enhanced by the digital video and the true-to-life characters. But Kim also adheres a little too close to reality, presenting two lead characters that may be believable, but aren't particularly likeable or worth following. While central character Jong-hwan – a typical bully with a hard exterior and a soft heart – earns a bit of sympathy by the film's end, it only comes after he's spent most of the story scamming and bullying people. And Yong-Su is given so little background and characterization that he only begins to break through the “best friend” plot device by the time the story ends.
The unlikeable characters of “Good-bye” leave such a bitter taste in the audience's mouths that Min Dong-Hyun's light, somewhat-romantic comedy “The Beautiful Strangers” may induce diabetes. The simple scenario involves Japanese journalist Ishida (Sadaharu Shioda), who's trapped in Incheon Airport overnight to wait for a 4am flight back to Tokyo. Lucky for him, he happens to meet bookstore clerk Go-Ny (Lee So-Yeon) when he hurriedly bumps into her, and the two end up trapped in the airport for the rest of the night after she misses her bus back to town. Of course, neither of them speaks each other's language, and communication hilarity ensues.
Min Dong-Hyun doesn't try for anything dramatically powerful in his piece, using ample and mostly-successful humor to present a very simple moment in time between his two characters. Even though the lack of character development is appropriate for the story structure, Ishida's characterization proves to be problematic. Shioda plays his romantic lead character far too broadly, making Ishida appear annoyingly flamboyant at times. Also, like in “The Treasure Island”, the Japanese actor doesn't act convincingly Japanese, causing the story to suffer a little in credibility. If nitpicking was the purpose of this review, I would also point out that there's no 4 am flight out of Incheon International Airport. But since it isn't, I'll settle for calling “The Beautiful Stranger” the best of the bunch simply because it succeeds at the little it reaches for.
At one point during One Shining Day, a character asks several Koreans to stop making Koreans look bad. For a film celebrating Korean's independence, it surprisingly does quite a bit of the opposite. The Japanese characters may be poorly represented, but at least they're not generally portrayed as gangster types, con artists, bullies or very strange musicians. At least, one thing One Shining Day has going for is that it's not nationalist fodder. Negative representations of Koreans aside, the film is certainly not a bad representation of what low-budget Korean independent film has to offer. It'll have little chance of crossing into commercial success, but at least it's a step in the right direction. (Kevin Ma, 2009)