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I Have a Date with Spring
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by Jay Seaver

"Shared birthday/apocalypse."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Despite "I Have a Date with Spring" being a jumble of dark wishes from depressed people as the world is about to end, or at least stories of such things, it's interesting that the connecting thread is not so much self-destruction or loneliness as much as people just looking for a respite: The rest of the world being evacuated or raptured away is not initially to be questioned lest the quiet vanish.

It is framed, somewhat, by the story of Lee Gwi-dong (Kang Ha-neul), a filmmaker who has not been able to actually make a film in the past ten years, and who has gone to an isolated spot in the woods to write a screenplay on his birthday - only to be interrupted by a woman (Lee Hye-young) with a fair-sized and devoted entourage. From there, there are other tales of people initially celebrating their birthdays alone: Teenager Lee Han-na (Kim So-hee) is an outcast at school whose eccentric neighbor (Kim Sung-kyun) offers her a ride home; 57-year-old professor Jeon Ui-moo (Kim Hak-sun) is celebrating alone (aside from a phone call from his mother who lives overseas) when he finds an ailing, disoriented girl (Song Ye-eun) in his classroom; Ko Su-min (Jang Young-nam) is overwhelmed and doesn't even have the day acknowledged by her busy husband and demanding child - not what she expected as a student radical in her youth, although a chance encounter with frantic Park Mi-syun (Lee Joo-young) brings some of the old time back.

All three (or four, including Gwi-dong) are at least partially looking to be left alone, even if they haven't voiced the desire out loud, and some force or another has granted their wish - it seems as though they have just missed some sort of call to evacuation, because aside from their new companions, the space around them is suspiciously empty. It makes the individual stories work as variations on a theme, especially since director Baek Seung-bin and co-writer Yoo Ji-young are fairly relaxed about how the various threads fit together: There could be some planet-wide disaster, Gwi-dong could be trying out variations on a theme, his visitors could be telling him stories, or any combination of those cases, with the actual movie the viewer is watching maybe or maybe not the end result. It kind of doesn't matter; as it slowly becomes clear that there's not really a mystery without a single point of convergence to be revealed here, there's a bit more importance given to how the characters are mostly just grasping in the dark. It makes some of the stories a little stretched at times, but does well to focus on their individual introspection.

The individual stories themselves tend to be decent, and sometimes one might rather have one exceptionally strong piece, even if some of the others don't measure up, rather than three or four that are sort of odd and don't misstep. The wrapper with Gwi-dong, for instance, is kind of off-kilter and does a decent job of playing up the idea that creativity doesn't come from isolation but from engagement, despite how so many in the arts can treat reclusiveness as a virtue. There's something similar going on with Han-na, as what initially seems like a mystery - why does this stranger have her notebook doodlings on his t-shirt - becomes less about the answer than how it implies that, despite her frustration and the fact that it appears to be the day the world ends, what she creates matters, and therefore so does she. It's a point that is driven home in large part by a pair of neat performances - Kim So-hee could probably do a sullen and irritated teenager without a lot of trouble, and it's adding her curious streak that makes her memorable. Kim Sung-kyun complements her well as the odd, possibly alien neighbor whose moving between deadpan and cryptic gives So-hee room to react.

The other stories are less about people looking to achieve something than those who may feel that life has passed them by, and probably has both the weakest and the strongest threads. The story of the professor never quite finds a hook or mystery that draws the viewer in, perhaps because Kim Hak-sun's reserved academic only seems to have fairly small, vague regrets, and while the actor does nice work presenting this, the script leaves little for Song Ye-eun to work with. Her student is also quiet, and the story seems to be seeing them as a romantic pairing rather than a parental one. On the other hand, the seeds of weirdness planted by the others bloom in most entertaining fashion as Soo-min has a heck of a time running an errand. Not only does Jang Young-nam have a partner in Lee Joo-young who gets to play eccentric in a thoroughly human and enthusiastic manner rather than being detached, but Baek seems much freer with his absurdity here. Things get frantic and scary and gross, including a weird and nasty giant spider, and Jang has Soo-min engage with it more and more by coming across as both the woman excited to get back into action and the mother who has to do everything.

It eventually comes back to the filmmaker and that sort of meta-commentary, which is a clever enough way to finish things off without necessarily leaning into the science fiction adventure that the producers likely can't afford. I'm not sure that's entirely satisfying; it's not just a movie that uses grand, fantastic ideas to intimate ends, and maybe doesn't quite make its scales meet, but also one whose stories could each use a little more on an individual basis.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32428&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/21/18 02:17:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Seung-bin Baek

Written by
  Seung-bin Baek

Cast
  Sung-kyun Kim
  Yeong-nam Jang
  Ha-neul Kang
  Hye-young Lee
  Hak-sun Kim



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