Director/writer Young-seok Noh has fashioned a road movie bender for the ages. “Drowning your sorrows” takes on extra meaning as Hyeok-jin (a wonderfully naive performance by Sam-dong Song) is convinced by his boozing buddies that a change of scenery will mend his grieving heart. The recent college graduate has failed to keep the singular attention of his love, Ji-hye.
Conveniently, best friend Ki-sang (Sang-Yeob Yook is ideal as the binge-guzzler, ideas guy who seldom follows through) has an in with a guesthouse owner in mountainous Jeonseong, so the bleary-eyed Soju (alcohol-rich rice wine) devotees agree to meet there the very next day.
As the journey to emotional rehabilitation begins, Hyeok-jin finds himself virtually alone on the motor coach but, happily, the stylish guitars from Noh’s music tracks make the perfect companion on the first leg of the journey for the jilted young man and his audience.
After realizing he’s been abandoned again (none of his pals are coming anytime soon; Ki-sang repeatedly says he’ll drive up “the day after tomorrow” even as the days go by …), the lonely hero opts to find his pre-paid accommodation and begin the healing process on his own.
With snow on the ground (yet precious little frosting breath in the outdoor scenes), Hyeok-jin metaphorically walks from his connection to far away Seoul (the bus terminal) and promptly selects the wrong guesthouse for his second mistake of the day (the first being accepting on faith that his hammered comrades would remember their plans, much less act on them).
Anyone who’s ever spent an uncertain night in a strange hotel will savour the deftly edited sequence where Hyeok-jin’s restless hours passing the time are presented from the point of view of the television, letting viewers voyeuristically peer into his private life just as millions stare at so-called reality shows from the other side of the screen with the same intent.
On one of his many smoke breaks, looking out at the rugged terrain where local lore says a tiger walks, the girl-next-door (Kang-hee Kim) catches the love-lost’s eye. After learning that she, too, is travelling solo, the man on the rebound stokes up his courage and decides to offer a bottle of red wine and see where the fermented grapes might lead them. Maddeningly, her door is opened by a man, forcing Hyeok-jin to eat another slice of humble pie and surrender his bottle to an unexpected competitor.
Urged via Ki-sang’s cellphone calls and yet another promise to join him, the allure of a beach to slurp down hot noodles and chug more booze drives Hyeok-jin back onto public transportation. Conveniently, the only other passenger has purchased the seat beside him and attempts a pick up based on her “not interested” target’s presumed attraction to Eastern techno music and Haiku recitations. Soon, the good-looking voyageur feigns sleep only to incur the wrath of his artistic predator.
From there, Noh delivers a steady supply of coincidences (the guest house couple have also come to the beach; before you can say bottom’s up the trio are fast friends until the next morning when Hyeok-jin awakens at the side of highway in his underwear—guess who gets her revenge now that the shivering half-naked hitchhiker wants to be rescued from public humiliation) and situations (from a crotch-groping potato hauler to booze-distilling innkeeper whose philosophy “My heart became a desert. I need to water it every day with booze.” strikes a chord with his guests) that finally reunite Ki-sang and Hyeok-jin, only to have their tongues loosened by so much imbibing that some half-truths slip out and a battle line of macho honour is drawn.
Despite the contrivance of incidents and motivations, Noh’s film scores high due to his extraordinary insight into the human condition—especially as it relates to relationship rejection and how to move on. There are many amusing moments and an engaging tone of fun and frivolity, but when all is said and drunk, one merely borrows some pants and gets back into the game. JWR