[Short but sweet] Going all in with One Perfect Day
Once upon a time I used to watch art films, independent films, foreign films, and important classic films. Then K-dramas happened. Though I still care about seminal films and filmmakers that changed the landscape of cinema, nothing has stuck to my heart like glue quite as much as K-dramas.
But if you’re like me and every now and then want to take a brief visit to the land of artistic films with long takes and carefully-crafted palettes, there’s a little gem of a short that I’d like to share: One Perfect Day. It stars Yoon Kye-sang as a sweet but hapless hero on the search for true love. The story follows him through the course of a single day as he not only gets dumped and treated like a loser, but finds a lost dog — and meets the woman of his dreams.
Truth be told, Kolon Sport actually sponsored One Perfect Day for their 40th anniversary in 2013, which makes it sound like a PPL train wreck. In actuality, there’s nothing PPL-y about this short drama at all. And the best thing about it being a brand-sponsored bit of marketing? It’s up on their YouTube channel for the world to enjoy.
One Perfect Day is artsy, subtle, and slow-paced. At 30 minutes long, it’s also just the right length and feels like an independent film. It tells a well-constructed story, but operates like a short story: We learn just enough, see just enough, and then it’s over. It’s more of a fragment than a fleshed-out story.
Inhabitants of dramaland are not very used to fragments. We’re used to long drawn-out stories that have more exposition than they probably need, so it’s easy for short pieces like this one to feel too spare, or even too quiet. But that’s exactly what makes One Perfect Day so enjoyable.
The story opens with our hero Woon-chul (Yoon Kye-sang) out on a disastrous blind date with Yoo-jin (Park Soo-jin). He tries to be slick, but he’s obviously out of his league — the kind of goofy, try-hard dude who tries to call himself “chic” but says “shitzu” instead. She puts up with him for longer than you’d imagine.
The Korean title of One Perfect Day translates more literally as “Rock, Paper, Scissors of Love” — and that’s because our hero is obsessed with the game. His date with Yoo-jin ends at a long flight of stairs up the street, and he insists they play a game of rock-paper-scissors to travel up the steps. The first one to the top is the winner — except when Woon-chul gets to the top, Yoo-jin has clearly lost on purpose. She ditches him (and flips him the bird) when they’re a staircase apart. The scene is an extended one, and Woon-chul is at his most mortifying to watch. But Yoon Kye-sang’s performance is so pitch perfect — for every bit of cringing, there is equal heartbreak, and seeing him realize the humiliation of what just happened is quite moving.
Woon-chul sits on the steps and revisits past heartbreaks (as one does in terrible moments like these) when a tiny white dog in a pink coat wanders over to him. In his loneliness, Woon-chul tells the dog all about rock-paper-scissors, and we get some backstory where his father (Ahn Nae-sang) teaches young Woon-chul the psychology of the game, the metaphors around each object, and some life lessons, too.
“Remember,” he says, “a man needs to know when to go all in and how to go all in.” His father tells him there will be a moment in his life when it all comes together. Suddenly it’s clear to us what’s driving Woon-chul’s crushes and dating disasters. He’s searching for that day, that woman, and that moment.
The psychology of rock-paper-scissors and Woon-chul’s life-long quest converge in the next and final scene, when he successfully returns the dog to its owner, Eun-hee (Park Shin-hye). This scene is the masterpiece of the drama. The editing changes to straight-on shots. The lighting and color palette is saturated, gorgeous, and magical, which contrasts from the rest of the drama. Petals fall lightly from the flowering trees around them, and the music signals an important shift. All of these elements come together to create a fabulous scene that captures the moment Woon-chul has been searching for.
This is hands-down my favorite Park Shin-hye performance to date — she’s perfectly directed here, and the performance is subtle and lovely. It’s also funny, like when she is reunited with her dog and spends several silent moments with her face buried while Woon-chul stands there completely agog. “She’s the one,” he tells himself. And what does he have up his sleeve to win her heart (or at least her attention) than suggest they play a game of rock-paper-scissors?
One Perfect Day is so well-crafted that you know what’s going on in this scene, and what’s at stake for our hero, without having to be told or reminded. Woon-chul is a man who’s based most of his moves on rock-paper-scissors; or in other words, he has let outside forces (a game of chance) determine his actions. But with Eun-hee, he’s presented with a completely new scenario. What if the mind games, predictions, and hubris that he usually deploys when playing the game were thrown aside? How much in life can be left to a game of chance, and how much is about making a choice and going all in, like his father told him?
One Perfect Day presents questions like this, but it’s mostly through subtext. The audience relies on the way the scene plays out, and the way the two actors play off of each other, to understand what’s going on beneath the surface. The story handles its questions gracefully, with room for interpretation, and then ends with a beautiful cut to black.
Stories like this can be quite refreshing, especially when contrasted with our more typical K-dramas that rarely leave questions hanging in the air. But One Perfect Day also has the same sweetness and simplicity that we’ve come to expect (and possible adore) from dramaland. This is what makes it the perfect mix of avant-garde and expected, film and drama, and serious and sweet.
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