I really admire the men in "One Step More to the Sea". Granted, they're not the main characters, but there's a persistence in their actions, a genuine desire for intimacy that breaks a lot of stereotypes about ideal masculinity. They're these kind figures with a surprising sense of restraint that makes for some inviting romantic subplots absent all the discomforting baggage common in genre films about love.
The main storyline in this film has a similar kind of easy, soft feeling that does a lot to relax the nerves. Of course, Won-Woo (played by Han Ye-ri) doesn't have much choice in the matter. A chronic narcoleptic, she's constantly forced to relax whether she wants to or not. Combine this with a dull school life in an extremely empty, lonely-looking town, and this kind of simple, soft film attitude is almost inevitable.
Director Choi Ji-yeong-I wisely plays to the strengths of this, as she deliberately peppers these proceedings up with gentle, steady camerawork. This film has lots of long shots, allowing the audience to fully immerse itself in the environment of daily life in this sleepy neighborhood. Choi Ji-yeong-I has expertly captured this feeling of youth that feels endless, and yet this is not necessarily a good thing.
There's a similar sort of malaise regarding middle-aged life. Yeon-Hee (played by Park Ji-young) is Won-Woo's mother, and seems perfectly resigned to just living on in the same life pattern. There's a quiet steadiness in her daily ceramics work that's solitary, but not exactly lonely. Her attitude is very cold, but the film gives the strong feeling that this is just the way she enjoys living. Well, maybe enjoy is a little too strong a word. Experience works better, maybe.
It's this backdrop of exploration of the future and the possibility of gradual change along the same lines as a static life that frames those romantic efforts by the film's two leading men. And it's strange to realize that, at its emotional center, "One Step More to the Sea" isn't really a romantic movie at all. It's more a story about living where romance kind of sneaks in at one point. There's no epic love story setpiece scenes here- just those moments of daily life when that other person makes a brief appearance, and it becomes clear that there's another sense of quiet calm beyond that which is commonly seen as the norm.
Overall there's very little in the way of an actual direct plotline here. There are a couple of big dramatic events to be sure, but for the most part character reactions are calculated and subdued. There's a strong intimacy in these moments that reflects the way we as people have negotiate our daily lives. Even when one character finally makes that leap and does do something significantly extreme, this action too is just another step forward to that feeling of emotional tranquility which is all too difficult to distinguish from general languor. This is a film to be watched to enjoy the quiet peacefulness of the universe. It's not a terribly exciting piece of work, but then, that's because this is a film to be enjoyed by one seeking to evade the stress of an overly dramatic life.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "One Step More to the Sea""
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