Young men just trying to do the right thing often end up losing out in the long run - so it is for the four best friends at the centre of Choi Jeong-yeol’s One Way Trip (aka Glory Day). Caught right on the liminal divide between adolescence and adulthood, each of the four has a different path set before him, not entirely of their own choosing. De facto leader Young-bi seems the most directionless of the four but as the only one with a driving license he’s found an old banger of a van and got the guys together for one last road trip before Sang-woo enlists in the military. Joined by city councilman’s son Ji-gong and Doo-man, a reluctant baseball player, the boys take off for the last real trip of their adolescent lives.
Things do not go to plan as the opening sequence features the guys furiously running away from the police, more worried about their parents finding out than any more serious consequences, but tragedy strikes when Sang-woo is knocked over in a hit and run accident. With Sang-woo unconscious in the hospital, the remaining three guys find themselves locked up on assault charges which later graduate to murder. How did their peaceful trip turn out like this?
Told largely through flashbacks explaining both the events of that night and the guys lives, One Way Trip examines the effect of a traumatic incident on each of the boys as they find their friendship coming under increasing pressure. Hanging around near the harbour, the guys spot a couple having a domestic dispute in a nearby car before the man drags he woman outside and proceeds to accuse her of having an affair whilst becoming increasingly violent. Headstrong Young-bi decides to intervene but goes too far in picking a fight with the guy while the woman gets herself to safety. When the violent husband falls into a nearby boat, the guys get scared and run off but the battered wife has already called the police who wind up chasing them through the town.
Panicking in the police station, distraught Young-bi gets himself into even more trouble, sending their case straight up to the detectives. Though originally sympathetic, the police change their tune when it turns out that the woman involved is a high profile TV news reader. In an attempt to protect her reputation, she refuses to back the boys’ story and implicates them in the murder of her husband. The police, not overly interested in the finer details of the case, want a speedy resolution - a desire which is only echoed from further up where head office is getting pressure from the media.
These are all nice, ordinary kids who’ve never been in any kind of trouble before but suddenly they’re being encouraged to turn on each other and engineer the best possible outcome for themselves as individuals. Ji-gong’s mother is a prim woman most worried about what the neighbours will think, not to mention the impact on her husband’s political career. Doo-man’s father is even more panicked than his son and immediately starts making every conceivable kind of fuss at the police station, including attempted bribery. Young-bi, by contrast, has no one to speak for him as the only responsible adult is his older brother - his father is already in jail. To the other parents, the answer is obvious, blame it on the no good delinquent their “nice” kid has been lead astray by and forget about the whole thing.
Though these boys are almost men, they have very little control over their own lives which continue to be dictated by parental expectation. Ji-gong’s overbearing mother locks him in the house to try and force him to study while Doo-man’s father ignores his pleas that he can’t stand playing baseball and is sick of all the other players resentment because they know he’s only on the team because his father put him there. Young-bi has no firm parental input but his feelings about his family circumstances are what lead him to try and help a woman in peril, as well as the reason he loses his temper so quickly. Sang-woo, the most blameless among the boys, has only his grandmother whom he wanted to spare a life of hardship by serving in the military followed by a solid government guaranteed job afterwards.
Fear and external pressures start to work their magic on the three previously innocent guys who thought they were doing something good but have ended up paying the price. Heartbreak and betrayal are the order of the day as money, power, and influence will always win out over justice, goodness and friendship. Injustice is the force that governs the world, Young-bi thought he was doing the right thing by coming to the aid of a woman under attack only for everyone else to tell him he should have just minded his own business and not gotten involved. Bookended scenes of the four guys together having fun on the beach only reinforce the stark contrast between their youthful innocence, naively believing in friendship and the essential goodness of helping others, and their post-trip awakening to the self-centred indifference of the adult world.
One Way Trip screens as part of the 2016 London Korean Film Festival at Odeon Kingston on 4th November at 8.30pm